Watching these generous souls makes me remember a story:
"When Jesus looked up, he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury (in the temple) and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, 'I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood." (Luke 21: 1-4.)
This particular passage has been quoted by many Pastors in an effort to encourage their congregations to contribute to their churches. That's an important point. When my husband and I were Co-Pastoral Administrators of a small, Catholic Church in the city, we learned "up close and personally" how astoundingly much it costs simply to keep Church buildings heated, lit, painted, roofed, and with running water, etc. And to pay dedicated employees decent wages!
Jesus asks us to be as generous with God as God is with us - and to do so without worrying. Elsewhere he says ""Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?....If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, oh you of little faith? As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows you need them....Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms."
There is a direct connection between fear and worry and a disinclination to contribute to a church or to give to the poor. The more we fear losing our financial security, the more we rationalize with ourselves about not having enough money to put some in the collection basket, not having enough resources to contribute to charities. But Jesus teaches us that our security should lie in God's personal promise to provide what we need. Not what we want. What we need.
Most U.S. citizens are rich compared to the average citizens in Third World countries. And Jesus tells us that the rich have a difficult time entering Heaven. Why? Because their temptation is to place their trust and security in physical belongings like houses, cars, money, stocks, and property rather than in a God Who loves them personally and extravagantly.
Jesus tells a parable about an employer (God) who pays the employees whom he hires last - and who work the fewest hours - the same salary as he pays the men whom he hired first who have worked the most hours. Our "pay" for following Jesus is to receive the Kingdom, eternal life with God, and God promises Heaven even to those who turn to God with their last breath of earthly life. How generous and extravagant a love for us is that!
Our American philosophy and lifestyle contribute to our disinclination to spend money on any but our "own" and in certain ways this philosophy is at odds with the dominant Christian image of the Body of Christ. The image of the Body of Christ tells us that our value and identity emerge from belonging to and being organically connected to a community even larger than our personal family, and the Head of this larger, world community is Christ.
As Elizabeth A. Johnson notes, "U.S. mainstream culture envisions the fundamental unit of society as the individual. Human persons mature by distancing themselves from others in order to discover their own abilities." Once the individual has - on his/her own - achieved a sense of identity, the individual enters into relationships with others for mutual benefit in the lifelong task of achieving intimacy. A relationship is thus akin to a contract, an egocentric contract, in which the individual's wants/needs has priority over the group's.
No wonder so many Americans fail to understand the concept of planning for the common good! Yet the theology of the Mystical Body, our world family in Christ, our family comprised of both the living and the dead, teaches us that we find out who we are through belonging to the Body of Christ, that each of us has gifts for the Body's benefit, that we use ourselves, our lives, our talents, our possessions, to build up the Body of Christ.
The idea of living separate individual lives, even living as separate individual families, Jesus tells us, is an illusion. Those of us who belong to Christ's Body rejoice in each others' joys; we weep over each others' sorrows. If one member suffers from illness, we all suffer. Life in the Body of Christ is incredibly rich and sustaining, such support that we need not fear because our spiritual family surrounds us.
The senior citizens giving to their church family understand the meaning of the Body of Christ because they live it daily. They are not afraid because this family, with Christ as its Head, sustains them. Such people also give generously to the poor because their hearts are organically connected to those who suffer. And they know that in following a generous God and belonging to this God and His Son's Mystical Body, they are rich enough and need not desire anything more.