Give freely ... but not because there's an audience

alisondgriswold@gmail.comNovember 17, 2012 

Like many in the United States, I was fixated on the news of the arrival of Superstorm Sandy. I tuned in to CBS the evening before landfall and thought the abandoned streets of New York City seemed apocalyptic, like something that belonged on the SyFy channel and not the evening news. After the anchors bid their audience good night, I kept the television on to see who the musical guest would be on Letterman.

An intriguing consequence of this storm was though Letterman was on, the Ed Sullivan Theater was devoid of guests. With his usual comedic delivery, mixed with a sudden awareness of just how awkward it was to have a completely empty theater, he explained that it was simply too dangerous for people to be on the streets, so the audience and half the staff was not present.

To the delight of those viewing at home, the show went on. An intern holding poster boards delivered the Top 10 list and a balding, middle-aged man stood in for scheduled guest Kate Hudson. There was no appreciative laughter or applause, but it was funny nonetheless.

Letterman's perseverance in the absence of an audience in no way compares to the bravery and generosity of those who are up to their elbows in debris, rescuing those in trouble or working nonstop to restore power. That is genuine heroism, and all those affected by Sandy have been in my prayers. This is not meant to be a tribute to Letterman, but the image of that empty theater illustrated a temptation I often struggle with.

More than any other time of the year, I find November and December to hold so many occasions to do the right thing for the wrong reason.

As sure as Black Friday and "The Nutcracker," there will be dozens of charities and service projects worthy of attention.

I'll buy gifts for Angel Trees and try to add extra canned goods to what I bring to church in hopes that all can feast for the holidays.

Many will do much more than I, but when that cashier asks me whether I want to give a dollar to Deep Well when I'm checking out at the store, I'll say yes because I don't want to look like a Scrooge to the people behind me.

These are good and important things to do, and I'd venture to say that you should practice charity regardless of how holy you feel your disposition is.

However, the practice of charity can be a means for us to grow in holiness if we take the words of the Christ to heart.

Advising his followers, Christ taught us to "take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them. ... When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your almsgiving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you" (Matthew 6:1-4).

I find the feeling of doing good intoxicating. I envision myself as a Mother Teresa type, wandering through the streets of Calcutta -- or Hilton Head Plantation -- showering my blessings on all I meet. However, the ultimate reason I give is not because I want to feel good or receive recognition. It's because nothing I have is mine to begin with.

That's why, as I consider the upcoming months, I'm trying to shed my Mother Teresa complex (though she is a worthy role model) and trying to envision, instead, that empty theater I saw on Letterman, realizing that maturity and holiness mean doing good not for an audience, but solely for my Father in heaven.

Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.

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