11 November. 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
1 Kg 17:10-16. The widow of Zarephath shares the last of her food with Elijah.
Hbr 9:24-28. Christ our high priest has opened for us the door of salvation.
Mk 12:38-44. The offering of the widow had great value in God’s sight.
In this Year of Faith, we could look at the question, Who is a practising Catholic today? Statistics can first be quoted about trends in the Church: about the drop-off in sacramental practice and Mass attendance, about vocations to priesthood and religious life, and about the difficulty of involving young people in Church-based activities. And then comes the question: Is the practice of the faith gone into decline? If by “practice” we mean regular attendance in Church and unquestioning obedience to hierarchical authority, the answer must be Yes, we are in serious decline. This sets a challenge that all of us, priests and people alike, have to wrestle with: How to make our Church a more welcoming place, where those who have drifted away would feel more cherished, cared for and understood. But there are other important sides to practising the faith, some of which are as alive today as at any time in the past.
Today’s Scripture tells of a poor widow who showed compassion by sharing her last crust with the prophet Elijah. Was she practising Catholic? In a real sense, yes, because she did what Jesus expects of his followers. (I was hungry and you.. If you give a cup of water in my name .. Then that other poor woman in the Temple, who quietly put in her last savings so that God would be properly worshipped, was she practising the faith? Yes, because she followed the generous impulse of her heart Whoever gives whole-heatedly of himself/herself to a worthy cause is following the example of Jesus, whether they are aware of it or not. They have the blessing of God and are promised their reward.
If the Year of Faith and the new evangelisation called for by the Eucharistic Congress 2012 are to have any real prospect of appealing to alienated Catholics in Ireland, we need to make sure that our idea of “practising Catholic” includes these vital qualities of compassion and generosity. Indeed, our attendance at Mass and sacraments is only genuine if it prompts us to loving behaviour of this kind. We also need our Church leaders to engage with us in open dialogue on some sensitive points of discipline and practice which many former Church members see as arbitrary impositions by authority, rather than as values arising from life and based on the Gospel. Today in this Eucharist we re-commit ourselves to practice the faith in the way that really counts: by loving and giving of ourselves as Jesus did.
The Cheerful Giver
“It’s all taking and no giving!” as Dolly Parton belted it out, in the Film: Working Nine to Five, and the next line was: “What a way to make a living!”. Today’s Scriptures point to another way. The good life manages to blend gracious taking with cheerful giving, and the value is in the giving. It’s our giving that is recorded in the Book of Life. Jesus is the Great Giver: that we may have life, and have it to the full [Jn 10:10.]
Mutuality: Elijah and the widow of Zarephath helped each other to survive. During the famine she shares the last of her food with the starving prophet. She gives without hesitation, and is blessed in return. The Gospel says: Give from the heart. The widow’s offering to the Temple might seem small in the eyes of other donors, but it was whole-hearted and therefore priceless in value. Generosity is not the exclusive prerogative of the rich. The poor have great gifts to share too, and when they do so, others should respond with appreciation.
Gifts from ordinary people support many projects and causes in the Catholic Church, just as they kept the Jerusalem temple going in Jesus’ day. It is a strange, but at the same time common truth, that generosity is more widespread among those who have little to spare than among those who have lots of money and property. But let’s recall today that all donations made for the glory of God share in Jesus warm praise about the widow’s mite: “She gave all she could.”
This story invites us to examine the quality of giving in our lives – not just to Church collections, but to whatever worthy cause attracts our attention and our sympathy. More than once, Jesus spoke about this subject. Not only should the gift he made with a generous heart, but so far as possible in an anonymous, non-fussy way, so that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.” The thing should be done because it is right, with the intention of pleasing God rather than winning credit or praise from others. And the more it costs us in personal terms – giving up some of our time, or our comfort, for something worthwhile – the more it is part of the one great sacrifice of Christ, who gave himself totally for us.
Saint Paul began the first extensive charity collection for people in need in the history of the Church. He proposed two wise slogans to guide us in this: “Those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly” and “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:6-7.) And there can be no doubt that the cheerful gift is more acceptable even among people on a everyday level. The hospitality shown to the famished prophet Elijah by the poor widow in the town of Sidon, was all the more precious in that it was given with loving respect, and not as a grudging duty. Here was a man of God, clearly in need of help. There was no need for long, involved argument about how he had gotten into this position, or whether he had drawn up a wiser plan for his future. She did what she could for him, and was blessed in the process.
“Charity brings its own reward,” says the proverb. There is a glow of satisfaction in giving for a good cause. It is also, in a Gospel sense, the best possible investment for our eternal future – that “treasure in heaven” of which Jesus spoke, when he invited people to “sell what you have and give to the poor.” And it has been well said that, from the perspective of our death-bed, we will be happier to think of what we have freely given away during our life-time than of what we have simply stored away for the rainy day.
Giving can be global as well as local. In our technological age, we have more detailed information than any previous generation about the hungry and deprived plight of people in Third World countries, and indeed of the major miseries endured in inner-city areas of high unemployment much closer to home. Sometimes we feel almost crushed into apathy by the sheer magnitude of the problems; at other times we may grow indignant at the political and economic structures that seem to perpetuate this state of affairs. Aware and intelligent generosity should prompt us to outspoken concern for justice, as well as some personal contribution to charities like famine relief, development funds and soon. At the same time, we ought not neglect the smaller, perhaps less urgent, needs at our own door-step. The personal touch is part of the giving, and giving our time can often be more precious than anything else. And Shakespeare’s line remains true about all works of kindness and mercy, in whatever circumstances: “It is twice blessed: it blesses him that gives and him that takes.”
First Reading: First Book of Kings 17:10-16
So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”
She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil ail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Hebrews 9:24-28
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Gospel: Mark 12:38-44
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”