Last Sunday we heard the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Today a widow deposits two coins in the temple collection box. Are the numbers just a coincidence? The Church Fathers did not think so. For them the coins represent the two great loves. (See also Lk 10:35)
Whether the evangelist directly intended such symbolism, the woman clearly gave all. Like an earlier widow (1 Kings 17: 10-16) she entrusted her meager possessions to the service of God and his representative.
I tremble a bit when I read today's Gospel. I see myself not so much in the widow but the scribes who contrast unfavorably with her. Now, I do not have great wealth by American standards, but compared to the people I have been visiting recently in Peru, my resources are enormous.* Furthermore, like the scribes I have had wonderful opportunities for study, retreats and self-development. Like them I could point to many good works done for God and others. And to speak frankly, their generosity would put most American Catholics to shame.**
Yet Jesus makes clear that our good deeds will not gain us heaven. The question is: What have I done with the opportunities given me? I am not talking about benevolence. Kindness is great, but it usually has more to do with upbringing and favorable circumstances. If my projects go well and my digestion functions correctly, it's easy for me to have kindly feelings. C.S. Lewis warns against judging others (and our own selves) on our supposed compassion. Much more is required.
What the widow did was let go of her coins, something the scribes would not do. They wanted to eat and still have their cake. They gave, but kept control. The widow held no such illusions. Like her predecessor in Zarephath, she knew any return would depend totally on God.
I think of my dear friend, Fr. Michael Holland. He kept close to the poor all his priesthood. At age 60 he had few possessions. But he would let go of even those when cancer appeared inside his body. God thus called him to the poverty which awaits us all - even Bill Gates. Mike embraced it. He had much practice. And like today's widow, he gave a beautiful testimony to the two-fold love.
*A recent dramatic example: October 31 a father brought his son, Mateo Sucasara, to the Mary Bloom Center. Seeing that he was gravely ill, Luz Marron (the Center's Director) took him to the hospital. X-rays showed his lungs were like a sponge, eaten away by tuberculosis. After Mateo was admitted, the father returned to attend to his other children in a rural community. Luz stayed with the boy, bringing him an orange then some soup. After several hours Luz told him she had to return to her home. The boy said, "please do not leave me, seņorita, I will die." Luz stayed another hour, praying with the boy, then reassured him the hospital staff would take care of him. When she returned the next morning, the fourteen year old had died. It was November 1, the Feast of All Saints.
When he was thirteen, Mateo went to Lima to work at a place where they made sweaters. He earned 200 soles, about $60, per month. To save money he ate bread dipped in sweet herb tea. His diet made him an easy target for the terrible disease which killed him. The Mary Bloom Center paid his burial expenses. The coffin cost what Mateo earned in a month. Luz accompanied his body to the rural community where he was born. Thanks to the generosity of our donors we will also be able to provide some help to his parents and siblings.
**According to a Gallup poll when you compare Catholics to Protestants and Jews, we do not come up smelling roses. In a recent year, American Catholics gave 1.3% of their income to their parish and charities. In that same span, Protestants gave 2.4% and Jews 3.8% The scribes and Pharisees beat us all. It was normal for them to give 10% right from the top. (see Lk 18:12)
From Archives (Homilies for 32nd Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Vegans for Food Equality (inspired by Catholics for Marriage Equality
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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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