Summary: When the Holy Spirit prompts us to give, we should discern that spirit and when we are at peace with the decision, give responsibly.
Thursday of the First Week in Lent 2019
There are two ways to look at God, and they represent the contrasting approaches of religious men and women to the virtue we call “fear of the Lord.” The first way, which we associate with, interestingly enough, both pagans and Muslims, could be called “terror of the Lord.” God is great (and we must affirm that) and entirely different from us, and powerful, so we act like slaves, servants, who do the Master’s bidding so that He doesn’t get angry and hurt us. We might also develop an affection for the Master, but if we think of any affection He has for us, it’s closer to the affinity we might have for a faithful dog.
The second way, which we as followers of Jesus need to cultivate, could be called “fear of a Good Father.” A good father disciplines but does not dominate. He is likely to have a conversation about right and wrong with a child before sending the child into a corner or slapping his hand. He neither indulges nor berates; he walks a middle ground between tyrant and enabler. He gives the child what is needed, and expects from the child what is appropriate. That’s why we pray “Our Father” rather than “Our Master.”
So Queen Esther, in this prayer we just heard from the deuterocanonical, or Greek version of the book named for her, sounds like she is pleading with her father more than with her tyrant. She rightly identifies the enemy as the one–Haman–who is plotting the extermination of her people. And she asks not for beauty or treasure or even long life but for courage and the words to say to save her family and her heritage. In this prayer she presages the words of Our Lord, when He spoke of persecution, telling us not to plan our words but to trust in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at that moment.
In another part of the prayer, she confesses to God that though she is a queen, she values as nothing the jewels and honors and fine clothing of her office. No, the most important honor she valued was her relationship to God. This is the attitude of a true daughter of God, of a true princess or queen or just plain old citizen. God before everything else. Honor Him alone, follow Him alone, trust in Him alone.
Our saint of the day, Matilda of Ringelheim, was the daughter of royalty, raised in a convent by her grandmother, an abbess. In the custom of that day, when marriages of the powerful were means of political advantage, she was married to Henry of Saxony. This was in the tenth century, the early part of the Middle Ages, when the barbarian invaders of Europe were settled into fairly stable regions.
Three years after her marriage to Henry, he became Duke of Saxony, and succeeded in the year 919 to the throne of Germany. Seventeen years later she was widowed and for years tried to keep peace between her two sons, Otto and Henry, who competed for the German kingship.
Matilda was rich, but she was controversial. Her sons complained that she gave too much to charity, to the poor, to establish convents and monasteries. Now, in this season of Lent, we are bound to increase our self-denial, our almsgiving, and our prayer. All things must be done responsibly; we can’t deprive our families of the necessities of life in order to give to the poor or the Church. But if we have far more than we need to sustain our families and keep solvent in crises, we have to remember that our assets really are given to us by God in trust. We are the stewards of any wealth God has loaned to us.
So, when the Holy Spirit prompts us to give, we should discern that spirit and when we are at peace with the decision, give responsibly. But if we see others giving, we should be thankful that they are responding to God’s call, and trust them to make informed and wise decisions. If we are unable to give more than a small amount, we should be thankful for that, and redouble our prayer for the success of our ministry. In other words, giving should be accompanied by a generous spirit and a grateful attitude, two graces that Our Lord will always give when He is asked. So we pray, Saint Matilda, pray for us.