IN OUR MIDST
Fairness vs. Generosity
Gregory F. Augustine Pierce
three children, now teenagers, have always insisted that my wife and I be fair
in our dealings with them. By "fair," of course, they mean that we treat them
"That—s not fair," they point out with great regularity when one
of them gets something the others didn—t: "He got McDonald—s and I didn—t. She
got to stay out late and I had to come home on time." These minor injustices
seem to them to be the ultimate in unfairness.
"Which would you rather have, fairness or generosity?" I often
ask them. For many years, they consistently chose fairness, but lately they
have begun to consider the possible positive aspects of generosity.
There are many. For one thing, fairness implies a minimal, lowest-common-denominator
kind of arrangement. If each child has to have exactly the same amount of everything—money,
time, attention, etc.—then it seems that all parents can do is dole out their
resources with one eye on the balance scale and the other on the bottom line.
Generosity, on the other hand, allows for the spontaneous gesture,
the extravagant expenditure, the once-in-a-lifetime experience. Generosity is
more fun than fairness, more exciting, more unexpected and therefore more interesting.
Fairness, on the other hand, is predictable, uninspiring, subject to a lot of
boring record-keeping and hard feelings.
At our work, too, most of us would settle for simple fairness
most of the time. There is so much injustice, so much inequality, so much lying
and cheating that goes on in the workplace that the idea of a fair wage or an
even-handed employer has great appeal.
Operating by New Rules
Consider a job where fairness was assumed and generosity was the
goal. In such an environment, the question "How generous can we afford to be
in this situation?" would be the driving force. Rather than minimizing salaries
or benefits, for example, employers would try to find ways to share with employees
whatever wealth or profit was available. Customers would not be asked to pay
the most the market would bear for the minimum quality a company or firm could
get away with. Competitors or parties in negotiation would not try to win the
best deal possible for themselves but rather would attempt to fashion the best
"win-win" situation for all involved.
"That—s ridiculous," you might say. "That—s not the way the world
works. You—d just get taken advantage of if you tried to be generous on a regular
But the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)
suggests that generosity is more the way God would have things. In describing
for his followers what the Kingdom or reign of God would look like, Jesus told
the story of the workers who were hired at various times of the day and yet
were still paid the same wage.
Just as my children did earlier in life, the workers who were
hired early in the day complained that the owner was not being fair. He, however,
pointed out that each of them had been paid a just wage, one that they had agreed
to, but that he was free to be generous. "Are you envious because I am generous?"
Exactly. Many of us think that fairness is the best that we can
get, and we—re really not eager to give generosity a try.
Living the Kingdom—Now
But the Kingdom of God is supposed to be "on earth as it is in
heaven," as Jesus prayed in the Our Father. That means that the way things are
in heaven—in this case, generosity over fairness—is the way things are also
supposed to be on earth. If we want the reign of God in our families and workplaces,
then we must at least try to operate this world by the rules of the next, where
"the last will be first, and the first will be last."
That—s very lucky for all of us because, as my friend Father Bill
Burke has observed, "We were all hired at five in the afternoon."
Gregory F. Augustine Pierce is president and co-publisher of ACTA Publications
in Chicago. He is the author of Spirituality @ Work: 10
Ways to Balance Your Life On-the-Job (Loyola Press) and the
editor of Christmas Presence: Twelve Gifts That Were More
Than They Seemed (ACTA).
Next: The Dishonest Manager
Talk about a time when you were the recipient
of someone's abundant generosity.
Jesus said, "The last will be first." Who is "last"
in your circle of influence? How can you make him or
this month's Questions for Reflection
from God in Our Midst.
The Gift of Time
By Judith Dunlap
I learned the phrase tempus fugit in high school Latin class but never
really understood its meaning until I reached middle age. Now I know how quickly
—time flies.— Toddlers become teenagers and, before you know it, you are celebrating
a grandson—s First Communion.
Over the years I—ve learned that time is a precious commodity,
not anything to be squandered on —to do— lists. At its best it is a gift meant
to be generously shared with those we love. So now to my best advice for parents:
Find time to play together as a family.
I remember the busyness of family life. It takes so much time
to cook and clean, shop and do laundry, take care of the yard, get homework
done, attend Little League, Scouts, parent meetings, etc. There are only 24
hours in a day, and eight to 10 of them are spent at work or school. And then
there—s sleep. It is so easy to let the days slip by with no time to play. But
scientists tell us that play is an essential part of a healthy life, even for
Playing together as a family teaches us how to interact and develop
relationships of trust and mutuality. We can learn to communicate in comfortable,
informal settings. Play can even help us let go of aggressive tendencies. And
it is a great way to relieve stress.
This summer try reclaiming Sunday as family day. After church,
spend a few hours playing together. Fly a kite, toss a Frisbee or just sit home
and play some board games. At first, it may seem to be the only day to get the
laundry or shopping done, but this summer rethink your weekly schedule. Besides
honoring the Lord there is another good reason for keeping holy the Sabbath:
Your family—s well-being may depend on it.
Piglet's Big Movie
Since A.A. Milne—s book Winnie the Pooh was first published in 1926, the gentle
teddy bear named Winnie has been a favorite of children and parents. Winnie—s
adventures in the 100-Acre Wood with his companions still dispense life lessons
to millions around the world in 31 languages. Now, following several very successful
animated films with Winnie the Pooh characters, including The Tigger Movie
in 2000, Disney has come up with Piglet—s Big Movie.
The recurring theme of all the Pooh stories is self-acceptance
and the acceptance of others and their differences. Piglet—s Big Movie adds
the perspective of the little guy.
The problem begins when the 100-Acre-Wood gang is —harvesting—
honey from a hive of very angry bees, and when Piglet asks to help he is told
he is too small. As it turns out, his quick reactions save the day but the others
don—t even notice. Rejoicing in their success, they figure they did it all by
themselves. Piglet, feeling small, left out and unappreciated, goes off alone
to nurse his hurt. Folksinger Carly Simon puts Piglet—s feelings into song with
—If I Wasn—t So Small.—
Soon the rest of the gang misses Piglet and sets out to find him.
Forced at one point to take refuge in his house, they find Piglet—s memory scrapbook
of adventures they all had shared, and in a series of flashbacks they relive
the events in which Piglet had played an unnoticed major role. In the meantime
Piglet has decided not to feel sorry for himself but instead to rejoin the family.
By the time Piglet and the gang find one another, Winnie, Tigger, Rabbit and
the others have come to realize that they often claimed credit for what inconspicuous
Piglet actually did, and have come to appreciate the wee one—s contributions.
Piglet, for his part, has improved his self-image and no longer feels small.
In the final scene the late afternoon sun projects Piglet—s now-huge shadow
on the hillside.
Piglet—s Big Movie is definitely for small children and
lacks the additional layers of meaning that often help adults enjoy a children—s
story. But a theater full of youngsters certainly enjoyed it when I saw it.
Alert parents might use the moment to help their children extract the very positive
moral of the story.
Piglet—s Big Movie incorporates several A.A. Milne short
stories in the flashback adventures. In one, mother Kanga and her son Roo have
just moved into the neighborhood. Not understanding a kangaroo—s pouch as a
resting place for a child, the gang fears that Kanga eats children. When the
truth emerges, so does a gentle message about prejudice.
The film—s traditional animation is all we expect it to be from
Disney, and the musical soundtrack of eight songs sung by Carly Simon—five of
them her own new compositions—adds a pleasant texture.
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
Anthony of Padua (1195-1231)
of us hasn—t turned to St. Anthony of Padua in a moment of panic when we—ve
been desperate to find a job, have misplaced a precious memento or feared our
credit card has been stolen?
We could just as well turn to the beloved saint for any number
of other reasons. Anthony is also revered as a devoted friend of the poor. He
is known as the Wonder Worker because of the many miracles that have occurred
at his tomb. He is the patron of travelers, of lovers and of marriage. He is
called upon as a helper at the time of birth and in instances of infertility.
Born into a prominent family in Lisbon, Anthony heard the call
to religious life early. He spent some years with the Augustinians, but over
time he developed a desire to become a missionary and preach the gospel in Morocco.
He received permission to join the Franciscans and, soon after,
set sail. Ill health forced him to turn back, but the ship was blown off course.
It landed in Sicily, where the friars nursed him back to health and he immersed
himself in Franciscan life. St. Francis of Assisi entrusted Anthony, a Scripture
scholar, with the task of teaching theology to young friars.
He gained fame as a preacher in Padua and far beyond. Thousands
would gather to hear him speak in public plazas and open fields. Anthony was
especially drawn to preaching the gospel among heretics. His eloquence turned
heads; his authenticity touched hearts.
Whenever possible, Anthony found refuge in prayer and solitude.
Towards the end of his life, a tree hut was fashioned for him near Padua. He
died at 36, exhausted from his laborious preaching. His feast day is June 13.
Monday morning, Dorothy Arata hops the bus for a quick 20-minute ride from her
home in Lakeside to the "Tenderloin" area of San Francisco to begin her day
as a volunteer at St. Anthony Dining Room. When she arrives at her stop and
makes the short trek to the dining room, she often passes drug dealers, prostitutes
and homeless people.
Friends have told her she shouldn—t be walking in such a dangerous
neighborhood, but the 76-year-old widow has a ready answer: "Don—t worry. St.
Anthony will protect me."
Mrs. Arata—s response has nothing to do with stubbornness or na—vet—.
It has everything to do with faith.
Introduced to St. Anthony early in life, she continues to place
her confidence in the humble friar—trusting that he will ask God to watch over
not only her but also the poor and lost souls who come to the dining room each
day, typically about 2,500 guests. The meal (entr—e, salad, bread and butter,
fruit, dessert, beverage) may well have to last them the rest of the day,— so
The Dining Room, operated by the Franciscan friars, is part of
a network of outreach programs sponsored by St. Anthony Foundation, based at
St. Boniface Parish. "The friars are a special group of people," Mrs. Arata
told Every Day Catholic.
She holds the same degree of enthusiasm for the guests she greets
and serves each week and the opportunity it gives her to spend time "with people
who have so much less than I have." Along with food, she tries to share a smile
and a few words with each guest. She freely acknowledges the rewards: "When
you have lived the number of years I have and you can still contribute to the
good of humanity, it—s a privilege."