Generosity is a Symptom of Courage – Br. James Koester

Occasion: Birthday Celebration of Isabella Stewart Gardner
Place: Chapel at the end of the Long Gallery, Gardner Museum

There are a number of words that we might use to describe Isabella Stewart Gardner, whose birthday we are celebrating today. We might use the word audacious. We could describe her as scandalous or provocative. We might call her stubborn. We could call her eccentric. We could certainly call her rich. I am sure that she was called these, and many others besides. But there is one word which we might not normally associate with her. That word is courageous.

I saw that word downstairs in the gallery where the works of one of the Museum’s artists in residence are exhibited several years ago. The works, a series of miniatures, included an excerpt from a letter written to Mrs. Gardner by her friend Matthew Stewart Prichard[1] an art historian and one time assistant curator of the neighbouring MFA. In the letter to Mrs. Gardner, Prichard he wrote: Be generous, generosity is a symptom of courage. If you fear; you are selfish.

We are all here today, because of Mrs. Gardner’s courage. She had the courage to be generous and by her generosity both the Monastery in Cambridge and the Museum here on the Fenway continue to thrive as important cultural and religious centres in the Boston area. Without her generosity neither Museum nor Monastery would exist.

We are reminded in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. [2] Had Matthew Prichard written the letter to the Galatians instead of St. Paul, he may very well have added courage to the list of the fruits of the Spirit.

Mrs. Gardner was many things, and chief among them was generous and if generous, then courageous. Or perhaps we should say that she was courageous, and if courageous, then generous.

We are here today, not because of a rather odd clause in her will which stipulates that this service take place, but because this remembrance of her on her birthday, celebrated in this way, sharing the Lord’s Supper around the Lord’s Table, gives us all an opportunity to say thank you once again. It gives us an opportunity to say thank you once again to God for endowing Mrs. Gardner so richly with the Spirit’s gifts of generosity and courage and to ask that we too may be inspired to live our lives with the same spirit of generosity and courage that she lived hers. As the Collect of the Day so aptly puts it may we imitate her generosity of spirit, and lead others to the Truth who is Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[1] Matthew Stewart Prichard 1865 – 1936

[2] Galatians 5: 22, 23

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