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John Calvin: Assisting their want out of our abundance

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15

“This commandment, therefore, we shall duly obey, if, contented with our own lot, we study to acquire nothing but honest and lawful gain; if we long not to grow rich by injustice, nor to plunder our neighbour of his goods, that our own may thereby be increased; if we hasten not to heap up wealth cruelly wrung from the blood of others; if we do not, by means lawful and unlawful, with excessive eagerness scrape together whatever may glut our avarice or meet our prodigality.

On the other hand, let it be our constant aim faithfully to lend our counsel and aid to all so as to assist them in retaining their property; or if we have to do with the perfidious or crafty, let us rather be prepared to yield somewhat of our right than to contend with them. And not only so, but let us contribute to the relief of those whom we see under the pressure of difficulties, assisting their want out of our abundance.”

John Calvin (1509-1564) in The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 253.

As we explore the theme of “abundance” through church history, our journey has brought us to the Reformation. Calvin reminds us, in plain terms, that the biblical idea of stealing is taking for ourselves what God intends for all. Consequently, he alerts us not to focus on accumulation as compared to our neighbors, but to share out of any the abundance God supplies to those under pressure of difficulties.

And, don’t miss his instruction to “lend our counsel and aid” to others. In his thinking, sometimes a person needs a “hand out” because they are in crisis. We must also give people a “hand up” to show them how to live following God’s design. Few mapped that out more extensively than Calvin in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. When we “lend our counsel and aid” we show the Christian faith.

Calvin charges followers of Christ to be “contented with our own lot” in a world filled with discontentment. The desire for things, whether lawfully or unlawfully gained, hurts those afflicted with it because it leads them to practice accumulation and prodigality (excessive spending) and also hinders their generosity. Things are only for enjoyment and sharing to meet the “want” of others.

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Julian of Norwich: Abundance of love

Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. Psalm 106:1

“We can, with [God’s] grace and His help, remain in spiritual contemplation, with everlasting wonder at this high, surpassing, inestimable love which Almighty God has for us of His goodness. And therefore we can ask of [Him] with reverence all that we wish, for our natural wish is to have God and the good wish of God is to have us. And we can never leave off wishing nor longing until we have Him in fullness of joy, and then can we wish for nothing more, for He wills that we be occupied in knowing and loving until the time that we shall be fulfilled in heaven. And for this purpose was this lesson of love shown (along with all that follows, as you shall see) — for the strength and the basis of all was shown in the first vision. For of all things, the beholding and the loving of the Creator makes the soul seem less in its own sight, and most fills it with reverent fear and true humility, with an abundance of love for its fellow Christians.”

Julian of Norwich (1342-1430) in Revelations of Divine Love (Brewster: Paraclete, 2011) 18-19. Julian was an English anchoress and an well-known Christian mystic and theologian. Her example of helping people anchor their lives to Jesus has inspired my wife, Jenni, to serve as the Soulcare Anchoress. It was a privilege to hike with Jenni among the red rocks this weekend (as pictured above).

After becoming ill at a young age, Julian saw a series of showings (think: visions) that celebrated the love of God and His goodness toward us. What does this have to do with generosity?

Like David in the Psalms, when we focus on the love of God, our minds start to grasp the depths of His goodness or generosity toward us. The process grows in us reverence and humility toward God and love and generosity toward others.

Sadly today, most people are too busy for God. They have little time to contemplate or seek after God who desires that we find our contentment in Him alone. Instead, many try to fill that God-sized whole in our hearts with other things. Thus, there’s little reverence, humility, love, and generosity.

If you want to grow in love and generosity in the wake of the resurrection, just contemplate of God’s deep love toward you. If you need help, read all of Psalm 106, and you may likely find yourself in the story. Also freely subscribe to my wife’s bi-weekly spigot on her website above.

For Julian and each of us, contemplation and reflection is never an end but a means to an end of knowing the love of God so that we can share it with others. The deeper we know Him, the more generous we can become.

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Hildegard of Bingen: Diverse adornments

When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. Luke 24:50-53

“The Son of God ascends to the Father, who alone with the Son and the Holy Spirit is the utmost excellent height of inexpressible joy and bliss. There the Son appears gloriously to the faithful in the abundance of bright sanctity and blessedness, and they believe in the purity and simplicity of their hearts that he is true God and man. Then the new bride of the lamb is showered with diverse adornments; she will be decorated with every kind of virtue for the great battle which will be fought by all the faithful against the venomous serpent.”

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) in Scivias, Part II, Vision 1.17. Hildegard was a mystic and friend of the famous monk, Bernard of Clairvaux. In Scivias she recounts visions she saw. She provided spiritual direction for prominent people including King Conrad III of Germany.  This post keenly aids us as we explore abundance in the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension.

Ponder with me a moment on this Lord’s day.

It’s been 28 days since we celebrated the resurrection. Jesus spent this time with the disciples, undoubtedly helping them connect all the dots between His teachings, and then His death and resurrection. Soon He would bless them and ascend to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Notice in this vision of Hildegard, what she sees when she contemplates this moment.

On the ascension, she writes that “the Son appears gloriously to the faithful in the abundance of bright sanctity and blessedness” which echoes the words of Luke in today’s Gospel text. Then notice her related thought, “they believe in the purity and simplicity of their hearts that he is true God and man.” Again, this gives a glimpse into the heart of His worshipping followers.

Then don’t miss the generosity of Jesus that comes into view.

The “the new bride of the lamb is showered with diverse adornments” (that’s us). This foreshadows the coming of the Holy Spirit to us, which produces beauty in our lives. As a result “she will be decorated with every kind of virtue.” Why does this matter? Any goodness in our lives and any generosity that flows through our lives is as a result of these deep spiritual realities.

We are not generous because we work, earn a bunch of money, and give it away. That’s neither biblical nor Christian generosity. We are generous because we have been showered with “diverse adornments” and God has “decorated” our lives with “every kind of virtue.”

Father in heaven, thank you for the diverse adornments you have lavished on us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Decorate our lives with generosity so the world sees and experiences your love through us by the power of your Holy Spirit as we await your final victory in the Last Day. Amen.

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Meister Eckhart: Abundant sweet meditations

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends Your works to another; they tell of Your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty — and I will meditate on Your wonderful works. They tell of the power of Your awesome works — and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness. Psalm 145:1-7

“My heart laughs, my mind is exalted, my soul becomes cheerful, all things around me are blithe and merry; whatever is around me and within me is turned to Thy praise. That which before seemed hard, difficult, irksome, impossible, becomes suddenly easy and pleasant. To give myself to fasting, watching, and prayer, to suffer or abstain or avoid, in a word all the hardnesses of life seem when compared with Thy presence to have no irksomeness at all. My soul is bathed in radiance, truth, and sweetness, so that all its labours are forgotten. My heart delights itself in abundant sweet meditations, my tongue learns to speak of high things, my body is brisk and ready for any undertaking; whoever comes to ask my advice, takes back with him high counsels such as he desired to hear. In short, I seem to myself to have transcended the limits of time and space, and to be standing on the threshold of eternal bliss. But who, O Lord, can secure for me, that I may be long in this state? Alas, in a moment it is withdrawn from me; and for a long space again I am left as naked and destitute as if I had never experienced anything of the kind; till at last, after many and deep sighings of heart, it is restored to me.”

Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) in “A Meditation on the Passion of Christ” in Meister Eckhart’s Sermons, Trans. Claud Field (London: H. R. Allenson) 79.

Eckhart was both a Dominican friar (which means he was a traveling monk who preached and trusted God to supply his needs) and mystic (wherever he went, he emptied himself to help people to grow more closely in relationship to Jesus). Great combination! Jenni and I can really relate to this guy! I read three of his sermons. Short and powerful.

This excerpt caught my attention with this expression: “abundant sweet meditations.” He echoes David, who in the Psalms, likewise celebrates God’s abundant goodness. Both David and Meister get lost in the awe and wonder of God, as if to be captivated into the heavens. Then, when their feet get back on the ground, they can only praise.

What’s this got to do with generosity?

The world needs more people who drip like this, to remind them that there’s more to life than the troubles that surround us. What can we do? Spend time with Jesus. He prayed the Psalms. Try praying Psalm 145 with Him today. Get lost in the wonder that the God of the universe loves you, and then drip His goodness everywhere you go.

Do this and people might call you a “generosity friar” which has a fun ring to it.

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John of Ruysbroeck: Swift growth and abundant flowers

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:15

“It is in the spiritual year, says Ruysbroeck, that which the month of May is in the seasons of the earth: a wholesome and necessary time of sunshine, swift growth and abundant flowers, when the soul, under the influence of ‘the soft rain of inward consolations and the heavenly dew of the Divine sweetness’ blossoms in new and lovely graces.”

John of Ruysbroeck (1293-1381) in Ruysbroeck by Evelyn Underhill (London: L.G. Bell, 1915) 70. He was a Flemish mystic, author, and spiritual guide before “spiritual direction” had taken shape in the church.

I’ve shifted from the monks to the mystics in exploring the theme of abundance in the 40 days between our observances of the resurrection (1 April 2018) and the ascension (10 May 2018) of Jesus Christ.

As the “soft rain” of May fast approaches, I must ask about the state of your soil? Is it hard or rocky? Does the desire for riches? Do the cares of this life choke out your fruitfulness?

Ruysbroeck rightly notes that the days after Easter “in the spiritual year” (like May on our calendars) can be richly fruitful. “Swift growth and abundant flowers” can blossom as God’s grace works in and through us.

However, growth only happens if the soil is right. How’s your soil? How do you know? Three major hindrances to spiritual growth, especially linked to generosity, are pride, fear, and worry.

We can liken these three to the unfruitful soils in the parable of the sower in Luke 8:1-15. How’s your soil? Only the perfect love of Christ can soften the hard soil of pride, remove the rocks of fear, and weed out worry.

Once the soil work is done (and only once it is done or you will labor in vain), soak in the “heavenly dew of the Divine sweetness” by drinking in Scripture to fill your heart with humility, courage, and faith. Then prepare for fruitfulness!

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Bruno of Cologne: Abundance of refreshing springs

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23

“I am living in the wilderness of Calabria far removed from habitation. There are some brethren with me, some of whom are very well educated and they are keeping assiduous watch for their Lord, so as to open to Him at once when he knocks. I could never even begin to tell you how charming and pleasant it is. The temperatures are mild, the air is healthful; a broad plain, delightful to behold, stretches between the mountains along their entire length, bursting with fragrant meadows and flowery fields.

One could hardly describe the impression made by the gently rolling hills on all sides, with their cool and shady glens tucked away, and such an abundance of refreshing springs, brooks and streams. Besides all this, there are verdant gardens and all sorts of fruit-bearing trees.

Yet why dwell on such things as these? The man of true insight has other delights, far more useful and attractive, because divine. It is true, though that our rather feeble nature is renewed and finds new life in such perspectives, wearied by its spiritual pursuits and austere mode of life.

It is like a bow, which soon wears out and runs the risk of becoming useless, if it is kept continually taut. In any case, what benefits and divine exaltation the silence and solitude of the desert hold in store for those who love it, only those who have experienced it can know.”

Bruno of Cologne (c. 1030-1101) in “Letter of Saint Bruno to his friend Raoul-le-Verd”. Bruno refused to be a bishop or attend the Council of Clermont that would launch the Crusades. Instead, rather chose to live in silence and solitude, where he wrote commentaries on the Psalms and the letters of Paul.

The order of monks he founded, the Carthusians, would become known for spending time in silence, solitude, and reading Scripture and doing self-sufficient work. In a world filled with turmoil, Bruno and his fellow monks, both male and female, resolved to listen to God and share what they heard.

My wife as Soulcare Anchoress and I as Generosity Monk can relate to Bruno. It is hard to describe all that silence and solitude “hold in store for those who love it, only those who have experienced it can know.” While we don’t live in a mountain retreat, we do actively seek after God in a strife-filled world.

We find that silence, solitude, and reading Scripture, causes our cups to overflow. As David declared “Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,” we find that God’s goodness, that is, His generosity flows to us, so that we have an “abundance of refreshing springs” to enjoy and share.

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Bonaventure of Bagnoregio: A certain generous compassion

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Luke 6:30

“There was a man in the city of Assisi, by name of Francis, whose memory is blessed for that God, graciously preventing him with the blessings of goodness, delivered him in His mercy from the perils of this present life and abundantly filled him with the gifts of heavenly grace.

For, albeit in his youth he was reared in vanity amid the vain sons of men, and, after gaining some knowledge of letters, was appointed unto a profitable business of merchandise, nevertheless, by the aid of the divine protection, he went not astray among the wanton youths after the lusts of the flesh, albeit given up unto pleasures; nor among the covetous merchants, albeit intent on his gains, did he put his trust in money and treasure.

For there was divinely implanted in the heart of young Francis a certain generous compassion to the poor, the which, growing up with him, from infancy, had so filled his heart with kindliness that, when he came to be no deaf hearer of the Gospel, he was so minded to give unto all that asked of him, in especial if they pleaded the love of God.

But once on a time, when he had been busied with the cares of his trading, and, contrary unto his won’t, had sent empty away a certain beggar who besought an alms for the love of God, he forthwith, returning unto his pitiful mind, ran after him, and bestowed alms in merciful wise upon him; promising unto the Lord God that thenceforward he would never, while he could, refuse any that asked of him, pleading the love of God. And this promise with unwearied goodness he did observe until his death.”

Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (1217-1274) in The Life of Saint Francis (London: Aeterna, 2016) 537. Bonaventure was a close friend of Francis of Assisi and the scholar among the founding members of the Franciscan order of monks. We have him to thank for the writings about Francis and the order. This story inspires me how the obedience of one to the gospel can impact many.

When I explored the theme of abundance in the writings of Bonaventure, I was struck with the reality that drove Francis. He realized all He had in Christ was so much better than what the world offered that He could not help but minister to others with “a certain generous compassion.” The “cares of his trading” left him empty as compared to sharing the love of God.

As Bonaventure puts it, Francis was “no deaf hearer of the Gospel.” May that be said of you and me! That we did not just hear the Word, but that our lives would be characterized as having obeyed it with all our strength. May God help us not go astray with the “aid of divine protection,” and make His love known through the “unwearied goodness” of our generous lives.

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Bernard of Clairvaux: Abundant opportunity

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:7-8

“Ever since I learnt your wish, though I have been turning the matter over in my mind, I cannot easily venture to decide what temper of mind suggested it. For you may in this thing have a zeal towards God, so that your purpose may be excusable. But how such a wish as yours can be fulfilled consistently with prudence I entirely fail to see. “Why so?” you ask. “Is it not wise for me to flee from wealth and the throng of cities, and from the good cheer and pleasure of life? Shall I not keep my purity more safely in the desert, where I can live in peace with just a few, or even alone, and please Him alone to whom I have pledged myself?” By no means. If one would live in an evil manner, the desert brings abundant opportunity: the wood a protecting shade, and solitude silence. The evil that no one sees, no one reproves. Where no critic is feared, there the tempter gains easier access, there wickedness is more readily committed. It is otherwise in a convent. If you do anything good no one prevents you, but if you would do evil you are hindered by many obstacles. If you yield to temptation, it is at once known to many, and is reproved and corrected. So, on the other hand, when you are seen to do anything good, all admire, revere, and copy it. You see, then, my daughter, that in a convent a larger renown awaits your good deeds, and a more speedy rebuke your faults, because there are others there to whom you may set an example by good deeds and whom you will offend by evil.”

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) in “Letter LIII” in Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 146.

Bernard emerges a key figure in the founding of the Cisterian 0rder of monks, a reformed group that spun off from the Benedictines, whom we highlighted yesterday. Like the Benedictines, the Cisterians focused on prayer and work with an extra emphasis charity and self-sufficiency. Whether male or female, they chose to live their lives for God cloistered in community and aimed collectively and caring for each other and blessing outsiders rather than living scattered in a city.

Today’s post comes from a letter between a young woman and Bernard, who served as the abbot (the head of the abbey of monks). In it we discover the idea of abundance in Bernard’s thinking.

This particular young woman seeks Bernard’s advice. She’s thinking of leaving the convent. Ironically, Bernard notes that people have abundant opportunity live for themselves anywhere, whether out in the city or in the cloister. From there, he highlights the value and function of the community. Therein, others set an example for you and can be impacted by the good that you do, while they (as your brothers or sisters) stand ready to rebuke your faults and help you follow Jesus.

Consider the modern applications. When we participate a small group in a community believers such as a local church, our good deeds can influence others more greatly. Furthermore, we have accountability to stay on track ourselves. Are you part of such a community? Like the Cisterians, we must pray and work with the aim of caring for our own needs and ministering to others. If we set an example for one another and remind each other to live this way, together we show the world the Christian faith.

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Benedict of Nursia: More abundant reward

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:28

“Before all things and above all things, care must be taken of the sick, so that they will be served as if they were Christ in person; for He Himself said, “I was sick, and you visited Me” (Matthew 25:36), and, “What you did for one of these least ones, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40). But let the sick on their part consider that they are being served for the honor of God, and let them not annoy their [sisters or brothers] who are serving them by their unnecessary demands. Yet they should be patiently borne with, because from such as these is gained a more abundant reward.”

Benedict of Nursia (480-547) in The Rule of St. Benedict 36. Benedict aimed at following Jesus in his day in Nursia, Italy. Many joined him, so he founded communities of monks that would be known as Benedictines. His rule emphasized Ora et Labora, or, prayer and work.

God made us to pray and work, not so that we would amass gain for ourselves (as it’s all God’s) but so that we would care for and share with those who cannot work. Do you know someone right now who is sick? They can’t head off to work today because some ailment has diminished their capacities.

This point in The Rule of St. Benedict is insightful related to abundance. “More abundant reward” awaits those who care for the sick. We pray and work to serve others and show our faith. We might make a meal, run an errand, help someone get to a doctor’s appointment, or offer some other service.

It’s tough when the suffering lasts weeks, months, or years. Such situations call for a team of servers! Don’t it for the reward, but when the days get long, remember that God sees and will reward the sacrifice. Instead, let’s do it generously to show our Christian faith to the world.

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Brigid of Kildare: Pray for abundance

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”John 14:12-14

“Brigid became an abbess but she was also a shepherdess, too. Not only did she tend her sheep on the rolling green hills, but she continued to tend the poor, giving freely from her stores and pantry as she had always done. And her community grew in numbers, until both monks and nuns lived under the abbess’ care in Kildare until thousands filled the place offering joyous praise to the Holy Trinity.

But one convent could not contain all of the Irish women who wanted to follow Brigid’s example. So she prayed for abundance again and again, and Christ favored each request. Brigid founded countless communities of nuns, until the convents reached from sea to sea across the green expanse of Ireland.

She found the chieftain in a desperate state, raving so that even servants feared him. As Brigid sat by his bed, silently braiding the rushes that covered the floor he became calm and asked, “What are you making?” “This is a cross,” the abbess said, “which I make in honor of the Virgin’s Son who died for us upon a cross of wood.”

The sick man listened to Brigid’s words of faith, of how Christ gave His life to save mankind, to save both the rich and the poor, the old and the new. And on that day the chief was baptized and died – one more saint added to heaven because of the work and faithful of Saint Brigid, the Abbess of Kildare.”

Brigid of Kildare (c. 450-525) in The Life of Saint Brigid: Abbess of Kildare, by Jane G. Meyer (Chesterton: Conciliar Press, 2009).

Brigid is believed to have been the daughter of a pagan Scottish king and a Christian Pictish slave known for her generous spirit and compassionate heart for the poor. She founded the double monastery in Kildare for monks (men) and nuns (women) where the perpetual fire burns as a symbol of hospitality, constant devotion to God and the poor. Brigid’s story inspires me today to pray for abundance. Care to join me on this Lord’s day?

Father in heaven, for those are lost, we pray for their souls to find abundant life in Jesus Christ. For those who are hungry that we know, supply us abundant resources to feed them. For those who are hurting, give us an abundance of love and mercy to minister to them. For those who are sick, provide an abundance of grace and strength to care for them. And for those who are poor, teach us to share what we have. Hear our prayer for abundance and grant these requests by your Holy Spirit we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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