By Eric Hanna, S.J.
When they hear I have a vow of poverty, people often ask, “what if you won the lottery?” Children especially find this to be an important question. Sure, it's okay to have a vow of poverty … but if you won the lottery, would they take your money away? That doesn't seem fair.
Well, there are two answers to this question: a technical answer and a heartfelt answer.
Firstly, the technical answer. A member of a religious order with a vow of poverty won't be gambling. And if I bought a lottery ticket it would be with the community's money anyway. So really, if the ticket were a winner, the money would belong to the community. Ditto for gifts: whatever is given to me is not for my use alone but a donation to the whole religious order of which I am a member.
Now for the heartfelt part: what would winning the lottery give me that I don't already have? I'm incredibly grateful for everything that others' donations have enabled me, as a Jesuit, to do. I live in a comfortable home with my Jesuit brothers. I get to do rewarding work in the service of others without having to worry about making ends meet. And I even get a bit of down time once in a while to have fun.
In every way that matters, I've already won the lottery.
I don't think anybody actually wants giant houses, expensive cars, or electronic gadgetry as much as they want to be in genuine relationship with others and comfortable in themselves. Instead of imagining what you might want if you could have anything, why not imagine what you truly want, right now?
Many of us have very little control over whether people like us, over what kind of work must be done, or over how comfortable our lives are. But we always have control over one thing: the choice to love the others we encounter. If what we most desire is to love others, then it will be very easy to get what we desire most days. And on the days when it's hard, Christ's grace will be abundant to help us.
Loving others means really listening, being affected by what is shared. It means forgiving even when we feel wronged. It means giving up what we would cling to for fear of losing and discovering that grace is sufficient. It means discovering that someone that I think of as my enemy is also hurting and in need of help.
On the occasions when I can manage, with the help of grace, to live this kind of love, it makes me grateful; but it also makes me aware that others are not so lucky. There are many who do not have work or a stable place to live or meaningful relationships to rely on. There are many who find it hard to give because they receive so little. If we have won the lottery – in that we have what we need – it should inspire us to generosity. Since we have so freely received, so too we should freely give.
I think that's why people fantasize about winning the lottery. One with vast resources can give without counting the cost or fearing the result. But with God's help, even though our resources are limited, our capacity to give love is not limited. So do give. Give without counting the cost. Give without fearing the result. Because, unlike money, the more love you give away, the more you will have.