GOD IN OUR MIDST
Fairness vs. Generosity
By Gregory F. Augustine Pierce

My 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 absolutely equally.

"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 basis."

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?" he asked.

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

Questions for Reflection:
• 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 her first?

Discuss this month's Questions for Reflection
from “God in Our Midst.”

FAMILY CORNER
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 adults.

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.

For Family Response:

Read about one of God's precious gifts—time.
Discuss healthy ways your family shares this gift.

Discuss this month's FAMILY CORNER.

Media Watch
Piglet's Big Movie
By Frank Frost

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.

 

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

Discuss Frank Frost's film review
in this month's MEDIA WATCH.



SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231)

Who 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.

Dorothy Arata

Every 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 it—s substantial.

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."



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