FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time ( B )
1 Kings 17:10-16 | Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10 | Hebrews 9:24-28 | Mark 12:38-44 or 12:41-44
On this Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, let us reflect on the virtue of generosity.
Learning of a poor Hindu family in Calcutta who had been starving for many days, Saint Teresa of Calcutta visited them and brought a big parcel of rice to the mother. She was surprised to see how the mother divided the rice into two equal portions and went out with one bundle to give it to her Moslem neighbor. When she returned, The Saint of the Slums asked her why she had done such a generous deed. The woman replied: “My family can manage with half the rice in this bag. My neighbor’s family has several children and they are also starving."
Imagine what it was like for the gentile widow of Zarephath in our first reading. It's just her and her little boy. Her husband had died, and together, mother and son were starving to death. As a gentile widow living outside of Israel, she was outside the protection of Jewish law and would have been among the most poor and needy. But even in her extreme poverty, she accommodated Elijah. She used up her last “handful of flour” and “little jug of oil” to make a loaf of bread for Elijah. We are told that the result of the widow’s giving is an unending supply of flour and oil. The Coronavirus disease has affected us all – ourselves, our kids, our communities and beyond. Some of us have lost family members to COVID. Some businesses have collapsed and workers have lost their jobs. Too many families have plunged into poverty. Yet we saw people around the world come together to help others facing unnerving odds for not only their friends and community members, but for people they may never meet — providing financial support amid an economic crisis, donating protective gear to the people who need it most, and taking to the streets to demand justice for all. Like the gentile widow of Zarephath, we can practice generosity in times of famine, poverty and want. All Catholic Christians should desire to be giving people. We have the moral obligation to act immediately and protect those most in need. I believe Anne Frank, world-famous German-born diarist and World War II Holocaust victim, hit the nail on the head when she wrote in her diary that “No one has ever become poor by giving.”
Have you ever received a gift and thought to yourself, “How much effort went into this?” Sometimes we receive gifts we don’t really like. An American Express survey about Christmas gifts found that fruitcake was chosen most often (31%) from a list of “worst” holiday gifts. It even finished ahead of “no gift at all.” Some of those fruitcakes we end up regifting to others. In fact, there's already dos and don’ts of regifting fruitcakes. Don’t “regift within the family.” Do “package it prettily.” The point is sometimes we receive what we do not want. And we give to others what we really don’t want. We give half-hearted gifts.
The Second reading talks about the superlative generosity of our Lord who has given us his all. If you really want to be generous, we must forget about the examples of other people and focus on the extreme generosity of Jesus Christ. No greater gift has ever been given, no example of generosity so selfless, no act in human history so important: Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He left his kingdom in heaven and the glory he had there to take on human flesh. This alone would have been enough to make him the most generous person to ever walk on earth. He will do nothing by half measures. He did not half-heartedly give us a fruitcake but total self giving and self sacrifice. His generosity is complete.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta shared a fascinating story of sacrificial giving. "Sometime ago, we had great difficulty getting sugar in Calcutta. One day a small Hindu boy, not more than four years old, and his parents came and brought me a cup of sugar. The little boy said, 'I did not eat sugar for three days. Give my sugar to the children under your care.'" That little boy loved to the point of sacrificing.
Sacrificial giving is giving beyond our means. Don’t give at a comfortable level but give at a level that is uncomfortable or hurts. Let me say it this way: If your giving does not hurt, or infringe upon the comfort level of your lifestyle, then it’s not giving. If your giving does not stretch you, and stress your faith, then it most likely is not giving. Typically, our generosity – whether it is in the form of time, talent or treasure – is a gift of our surplus. Our volunteerism or fundraising support is budgeted in light of the many other obligations, expectations and responsibilities of our daily lives. The poor widow in our Gospel shares those two small coins gives all she has as an act of generosity. This is an invitation for us to not simply give what is leftover to acts of charity and service, but that we give our best in service of God and others. We sacrifice in one way or another. As parents, we give up things in order to provide for our children. We sacrifice being friends with our children in order to grow them into responsible, disciplined adults. We sacrifice financial freedom when we make large purchases, like a home. Some people sacrifice parts of their bodies for those they love, like a friend of mine who gave one of his kidneys to his child. Sometimes we sacrifice relationships so that God has the space he desires to work in and through those hearts and lives. When faced with situations one can ask, “what requires the most love?” And always choose that. Should I donate or not? Should I help the homeless guy on the side of the road or not? Should I volunteer at church or not? What requires the most love, the most giving of myself? Choose that. In closing, as we strive to give sacrificially, let's draw inspiration from Saint Teresa of Calcutta who said, "Love means to be willing to give until it hurts...If you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum