Earlier this month an acquaintance of mine, a young and very wealthy heiress, informed me with some relief that her accountant had finally calculated the amount she could “afford to give” before the end of the year in order to maximize the charitable income tax deduction allowed under the Internal Revenue Code.On the same day, by coincidence (is there such a thing?), I came across a reference to the story of the widow’s mite that appears in the gospels of Mark and Luke.
It would be un-Christian, indeed foolish, for any of us at the National Catholic Community Foundation to judge—or even question—the motives of our donors. All of us, after all, are on our own journeys to Ultimate Truth, and what matters isn’t so much where we are on these sojourns as much as the direction in which we are headed.
Still, during this Advent season I was struck by the dichotomy of the charitable motives of these two women, the young heiress and the poor widow. There may be some wisdom to be gained in exploring it.
The traditional interpretation, of course, is that the widow is making the greater gift because hers entails sacrifice. But, there is another, more subtle, point to be gleaned.
Edifying and challenging though it is, the story of a poor widow “giving from her want” has an element of sadness. But, there is a deeper sadness to be found in the example of the young heiress. Although restricted by poverty, the widow recognizes no restrictions in her ability to give and is therefore free to donate even from “her want.” In contrast, the heiress, who is “blessed” with great wealth, perceives herself as limited in her ability to give and, therefore, is in fact limited. One is free, the other not.
If asked to fill the slippers of the heiress or the sandals of the widow, most of us—given where we are on our own sojourns in life—would make the obvious choice. But, would it be the liberating one?
From all of us at the National Catholic Community Foundation please accept our wishes for a happy and holy Christmas season.
Dana Robinson is chairman of the National Catholic Community Foundation.