A recent headline in The Wall Street Journal caught my attention: “Hard-wired for Giving.” The lead into the story questioned the Darwinian assumption that humans are basically selfish and pointed to a recent study in which scientists discovered the human brain is actually built for generosity.
Not only that, but scientists say we’re happier when we are generous. MRIs show that the midbrain — that portion of our brain that controls our cravings — lights up when we act generously.
Of course, for Catholics, there was never any doubt about all this. We were created in the image and likeness of God, who after all, is fabulously generous. Every heartbeat, everything we are and everything we have — except our own sinfulness — is a gift from Him. (Even when we sinned, God’s response was to give us His only Son, Jesus.) Yes, we are happiest when we act in accord with the way our Creator designed us to be: generous.
God’s love and generosity are made real to us through the actions and example of others. Sadly, there are many people in our world today who have not experienced true love, a love that seeks to serve and to give. Many live with hopelessness, hunger, violence and abuse.
Chances are, if you are reading this article, you have been greatly blessed. You don’t go to bed hungry. You are not persecuted for your faith. You are not beaten or abused or mistreated. You don’t live in fear.
Perhaps you experienced the true and selfless love of a mother and father who cared for you, the generous love of a spouse who stood by you in good times and bad, the wise love of a religious sister who formed you in the faith or the gentle love of a priest who personified Christ and nurtured you with the sacraments.
Ponder with me for a moment the words of Christ, “To whom much has been given, much will be required.” We who have been given so much, who live as kings and queens in a world in which many live and die amidst war and hunger, have a tremendous responsibility to be generous.
I’m thinking of a priest I know who accepted that responsibility at an early age and who makes God’s love real in a brokenhearted world, a world starving for love.
From the time he was a young boy, he gave his heart to God completely. He didn’t try to do things his own way, but entrusted everything to the Lord. I’ve watched him toil and sweat among his people, sacrificing everything to serve them, never thinking of his own needs. This radical self-giving is in complete opposition to what our present culture of consumerism and hedonism says we were made for.
It’s the kind of love I see in parents who think nothing of caring for a sick child or frail parent around the clock, the kind of love I see in an elderly woman who watches over her husband dying of Alzheimer’s and breaks a bone in her back trying to help him up to the bathroom.
This is the love we were made for, the love that impels us to quit evaluating every situation in terms of how it makes us feel or how it affects us, and instead give our lives in service to one another through Christ. Yes, we are hard-wired for this kind of generous love, if only we will embrace it. This is the Divine Physician’s prescription for a world endangered by self-absorption and drowning in depression. This is the way to true happiness.
Which leaves me wondering: What would our world look like if every Christian resolved today to live a life of generous love and humble service? What might that do for marriages, for family life, for world peace? Without a doubt, the right answer would lead to some very different morning headlines, quite distinct from those we have grown to accept as inevitable.