NOVEMBER 8, 2009/ 32ND SUNDAY: 1KINGS 17:10-16; HEBREWS 9:24-28; MARK 12:38-44

 

THIS POOR WIDOW CONTRIBUTED MORE THAN ALL THE OTHERS. With these words Jesus proclaimed by means of a concrete instance, a revolutionary view of human behavior. The worth of our acts is determined rather by the dispositions and intentions of the heart than by their ostensible value as judged by this world’s standards. We are given an insight into the character of Jesus from the fact that he noticed this act of a poor, anonymous woman and was affected by her person. She was anything but conspicuous in the crowd that filled the temple, many of whom offered donations for the upkeep of sacred precincts out of devotion.  Who else would attend to so insignificant and commonplace a figure, having nothing to recommend herself as an object of interest?

 

In the first reading today, we are given an answer to this question, for Elijah the prophet also had noticed a poor widow as she gathered sticks for her baking. He saw she was poor, and at the end of her resources Yet he trusted in her generosity. She did not disappoint his expectation but shared the little she had with this stranger, only to be rewarded beyond hope by the man of God. Her story has been told ever since and presented as a model for countless men and women who seriously seek to live their lives in a meaningful cause. Both these women proved to have some strikingly generous quality that enabled them to risk their all in a single act.

 

What is it that impels persons like these two poor widows, seemingly quite ordinary in the view of friends and neighbors, to recognize some particular event or encounter as a call from God to risk their all in order to respond to the invitation? There seems to be some quality in the human spirit that responds to value when perceived as offered for the taking. This inner urge to give oneself fully, to engage our whole self in one act of trust, even at great risk, suddenly springs up within and impels us to choose a course that gives new meaning to life itself. At some time or other each of us is confronted with such a choice that occurs in the normal unfolding of our life. Sometimes we recognize that the choice will be life-changing. The decision to marry made responsibly is surely life changing and carries promise of a more meaningful and fuller life and yet remains full of risk. So also the decision to make permanent religious vows promises to enhance life’s meaning and fruitfulness, while entailing unknown risks of another kind. A mother who decides to bring new life to birth and nourish her child to maturity chooses to commit herself to a course full of uncertain challenges for the sake of engaging more completely in a fuller existence. The more one examines our human condition the more evident it becomes that we are daily confronted with situations that call for a willingness to engage our self, often having some inconvenience and at times considerable risk, for the sake of responding positively to an opportunity for a truer way of living.

 

However, it is not only such recognized important matters that engage us in ways that change our very self and set us on a new path in life. We must be disposed to accept the challenge to risk our happiness for the sake of fidelity to God’s invitation to give our very self over to him. We create this disposition by daily fidelity to God’s will, by acting in keeping with faith and its values, by devoting time and energy to prayer and spiritual reading. This disposition, the fruit of ordinary, steady faithfulness to God’s will is implied in both of today’s readings telling of the two widows, one gathering wood to bake her last meal, the other giving her last penny to honor her Creator. The liturgy today beckons us to look into our own hearts here at this liturgy and to discover there that we each have much in common with these widows today. Events in our country this past week remind all Americans how precarious is our security in this world. The largest military installation in the world proved vulnerable to deadly attack from within, leaving thirteen young, healthy men and women dead and thirty-one others wounded, each one shot at random, each a symbol of any American.

Long ago Saint Augustine recognized how vulnerable every person is in fact. He made the point in a letter (Ep 120) to Proba, a rich Roman widow who founded a monastery in Carthage and wrote to ask Aug how to pray.  He first points out that a widow is one who is left alone (sola, in Latin) in the world. So he adds AYou must consider yourself desolate (desolare means literally ‘left alone’) in this world no matter how much good fortune surrounds you.@  He further comments that each of us is, at the deepest center of our being, alone before God; no one else can answer for the person we become and are. Interestingly, in a letter (Ep 92) to Italica, another widow, Augustine makes a contrasting point, also with a reference to the word desolare: AYou must not consider yourself desolate while in your inner person you have Christ dwelling in your heart through faith.@ He reminds her of Athe greatness of that light that will illumine all the things now closed up in our hearts@. That light is God himself, for sure.@  AWe shall see him in the measure in which we are like him, since even now it is in the measure in which we are unlike him that we do not see him.”  This Eucharist we are now celebrating is given to enable us to risk our all by committing our whole self to the work of prayer in the Spirit who remakes us in the likeness of Jesus, the eternal Son of the Living Father. &


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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