When I worked at a Missionaries of Charity home for the dying, one of the AIDS patients who had been involved previously in prostitution said this: “This is the first place in my life where people did nice things for me and didn’t want to take something from me; they give but then they don’t take.” That experience was, by her own account, the most freeing and healing experience of her life.
I remember thinking to my 23 year old self: “How can it be that someone could have lived 24 years and never once experienced love without conditions?”
Such an ‘economy of charity’ freely spends all of its private capital on others, seeking to receive dividends only from the limitless generosity of a God who lavishly replenishes only those whose reservoirs are lavishly emptied. In other words, what we are freely given by God we are given to give freely (cf. Matt. 10:8). And what’s more, even those hoped-for dividends will redound in the halls of heaven to the good of all!
A man I knew in Tallahassee who worked with Catholic Charities loved to say, Every man goes to his death bearing in his hands only that which he has given away.
Reminds of of a Dostoevsky parable in The Brothers Karamazov:
Once upon a time there was a woman, and she was wicked as wicked could be, and she died. And not one good deed was left behind her. The devils took her and threw her into the lake of fire. And her guardian angel stood thinking: what good deed of hers can I remember to tell God? Then he remembered and said to God: once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar woman. And God answered: take now that same onion, hold it out to her in the lake, let her take hold of it and pull, and if you pull her out of the lake, she can go to paradise. The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her: here, woman, he said, take hold of it and I’ll pull. And he began pulling carefully, and had almost pulled her all of the way out, when other sinners in the lake saw her being pulled out and all began holding on to her so as to be pulled out with her. But the woman was wicked as wicked could be, and she began to kick them with her feet: ‘It’s me who’s getting pulled out, not you; it’s my onion, not yours.’ No sooner did she say it than the onion broke. And the woman fell back into the lake and is burning there to this day. And the angel wept and went away.
Hans Urs von Balthasar also offered a powerful iteration of this truth:”Wastefulness is the original Christian attitude…the entire Passion occurs under the sign of this complete self-wasting of God’s love for the world.” In fact, you might say that a key Christian ascetical practice always involves the will to love self-forgetfully by quietly renouncing as often as possible the inner desire to be repaid for love by those we choose to freely love.
But the Lord gave us such love’s most powerful iteration:
Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Luke 14:13-14