WE have to learn to distinguish between the two since both can look the same and can involve more or less the same amount of money, time, effort, etc. Generosity is, of course, not prodigality, though it is never sparing of the resources that may be needed to pursue a real good.
Prodigality is simply a matter of wastefulness, oftentimes of the thoughtless and selfish kind, as dramatized in that parable of the prodigal son. (cfr. Lk 15,11-32) It is an irresponsible way of using ones resources, endowments and blessings that are made to respond simply to ones whims and caprices.
To be able to distinguish between the two, we have to develop the attitude, habit and skill of referring the use of things to God. As to how to do it, some ideas that can help us are the following:
- To often ask ourselves what God wants us to do with our resources;
- To consult the social teachings of the Church that can give us clear ideas about how our attitude should be toward the material and temporal things we have, like our business, etc.
- To practice many works of mercy, both of the material and spiritual kinds;
- To take active initiative in carrying out ambitious projects to help the poor, the marginalized, those in the peripheries, etc.
Its always good that whatever service we do for others, we should be as generous as possible without spoiling them, and whatever attention we give to ourselves, we should try to be as sparing as possible without, of course, harming us or jeopardizing our health, etc.
Pertinent to this point, Christ said: Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return. (Lk 6,38)
In other words, the more we give, the more we actually will receive. Christ promised as much when he said: Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children of fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Mt 19,29)
In another occasion, Christ also said: Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. (Mt 13,12) It is clear that Christ wants us to be generous and not sparing in our love for God and service for the others.
We have to be wary of the strong influence of todays temper that encourages everyone, especially the young ones, to be self-centered and self-absorbed. Its an evil spirit that tempts people to be wasteful of what they have just to satisfy not their needs but their wants, their whims and caprices. Its a spirit that traps them in the logic of the flesh and of the world.
We have to find ways of how to overcome this predicament. That is why Christ told us clearly that we practice self-denial and all forms of sacrifice. These practices are not meant to demean or debase us, but rather to free us from the many snares of the devil that are thrown on us everyday, so we can affirm our true dignity as children of God.
We need to teach everyone to practice generosity while avoiding prodigality. We have to learn how to be big-hearted in our love for God and others, unafraid of the cost and effort that may be involved.
We also have to know how to combat prodigality that can now trap us in very subtle if not strongly attractive and irresistible ways. We have to learn how to deal with the waves of materialism, commercialism, egoism, and all forms of addiction, that surely lead us to be wasteful and prodigal of our resources, talents and endowments.