Volunteers in St. Clement Parish, Matawan, prepare to deliver packages of Thanksgiving meals to senior citizens living in the area Catholic News Service columnist Effie Caldarola focuses on the topic of generosity especially now during the Christmas season. Hal Brown photo
Volunteers in St. Clement Parish, Matawan, prepare to deliver packages of Thanksgiving meals to senior citizens living in the area Catholic News Service columnist Effie Caldarola focuses on the topic of generosity especially now during the Christmas season. Hal Brown photo
Someone I know is a waiter. Like restaurants across the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, his establishment has been open, closed, carry-out only, 50 percent capacity – in other words, his income has bounced like a yo-yo.

The other evening, with renewed closure rules going into effect, he served his last table. He chatted with these customers, and when they left, he discovered they had left a $200 tip – more than the cost of their meal.

This, our season of giving, comes at a time of great need.

When I hear stories like this, it challenges my own generosity.

Am I a generous and spontaneous giver? Or do I parse out my treasure, my talents, my time, as if I'm budgeting for the electric bill? Do I overthink my giving? Or do I give freely and from my essence?

During Advent and Christmas, I have been called to reflect on John 1:5, "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

I have a Christmas candle I pull out every year. I can't even remember where I got it. It's sparkly silver. It's very pretty. But as I prayed one morning, the thought came to me: Why have I never lit this candle? Isn't a candle meant to burned? Aren't there more candles out there, which could replace this one when it's used up? What am I waiting for? Why am I hoarding it?

The candle became a metaphor, of course, for my own generosity and my attitude toward giving, toward using what I have as God intends. What am I waiting for? So I lit the candle and now it burns while I pray, reminding me that Light is meant to be shared generously.

There's the ancient story from the desert fathers about the monk who came to "Abba Joseph" for advice, much like the rich young man who came to Jesus to ask whether he was doing what was necessary for salvation.

The monk told Abba the ways he was being a good person – prayer, fasting, keeping the rules – what more should he do?

The older monk reached his hands up to heaven and his fingers became like 10 lamps of fire, and he said, "Why not become fire?"

Jesus told the rich man something that at first sounds like different advice. Jesus told him to give up all his possessions and then "follow me." Sometimes, when we read this, we decide it can't apply to us. Most of us can't give up everything. We need to save for retirement. We need to provide for our families. So Jesus isn't talking to me, is he?

It has taken me a while to realize the point of the story isn't about possessions. The point is that Jesus speaks to each of us individually about his will for us, but he always includes the call – we are always asked to follow him, and if we do, we become fire.

If we have the means, this year provides us the opportunity, the gift, of learning to stretch the warm fire of our generosity. Many parishes are experiencing a huge downturn in donations due to smaller crowds and closures. Food banks see lines snake mercilessly around city blocks. People are being evicted in unprecedented numbers. Our neighbors may be lonely or depressed and need a phone call.

My deacon friend was asked, "How much should I give?" He replied, "Give more."

Don't overthink it. We're called to be lavishly, spontaneously, sacrificially generous with our time and resources.

When I light my candle, the flame reminds me of this.