Writings of St. John:
From Degrees of Perfection:
17. Always be more disposed toward giving to others than giving to yourself, and thus you will not be envious of or selfish toward your neighbor. This is to be understood from the viewpoint of perfection, for God is angered with those who do not give precedence to his good pleasure over that of humans.
• I feel a lot of people (Christians and others) get this one wrong. I see a huge emphasis on being generous with material goods or avoiding jealousy about material things. I see throughout St. John’s writings that the giving we are meant to do is not to be considered solely in material terms. Don’t get me wrong, there is a problem in the industrialized world regarding attachment to material goods. But the problem isn’t material in nature.
• Why do I say this? I’ve seen envy and selfishness towards neighbor in people of little material wealth and great material wealth alike. Similarly, I’ve been impressed and inspired by the generosity of both those of little material wealth and great material wealth. The difference between the selfish and the generous? Nothing to do with their paycheck or their contribution to the gross domestic product.
• Some people have turned their backs on the materialism of this world, but haven’t become any less self-centered for it.
• All giving must originate from a spiritual source. It’s about giving of self more than it is about giving of things.
• I find this to be why fasting is an important discipline. Friday meat fasts, Lenten fasts, periodic fasting from whatever takes one’s focus from serving God, so to serve others. These practices of discipline help us to “be more disposed toward giving to others.”
• What comes to mind? 1 Corinthians 13, of course! St. John of the Cross has actually written a number of things about 1 Corinthians 13. Rather than finish this reflection with one of those quotes, I’ll go straight to the source that inspired John:
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.