26 November 2012

Making your sacrifice perfect

34th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We all know the lesson to be learned about stewardship from the story of the Widow's Mite: it's not the amount you give that matters but whether you are giving out of your surplus or your poverty. The wealthy give a larger amount than the widow, but they give out of their financial leftovers; in other words, they do not give their first fruits. Jesus praises the widow b/c she gives out of her poverty. Her two small coins amount to a much grander sacrifice than the rich folks' gold precisely b/c those two coins represent her entire livelihood, everything she has and everything she is. To the degree that the wealthy are set apart from the hardship of sacrifice, they are deprived of the opportunity to grow in holiness through sacrifice. To the degree that the poor are united to the poverty of their sacrifice—giving of themselves as well as their meager wealth—they are made holy. But this gospel story isn't about being rich or poor, generous or greedy. It's about how much of You do you sacrifice for the benefit of others. When you give, do you give your whole livelihood? Do you invest in your sacrificial act your whole person? 

I can hear you grumbling already! Geez, Father. . .I give what I can. Things are tight these days. What more do you want? First, all I want for you is to grow in holiness, pray for me and the other friars, and get you and yours to heaven. Second, remember: we aren't talking about dropping cash in the collection plate, or writing a weekly check to the parish. Your sacrifice can certainly include a monetary donation of some sort but that's hardly the lesson Jesus is teaching. Notice that while praising the widow's poverty, he draws our attention to her depth of her sacrifice, “she. . .has offered her whole livelihood." Not just her cash on-hand, not just her meager savings but her WHOLE livelihood, everything she has to live on. Why is this such a grand sacrifice? More than anything else, the poor widow is casting away her future; she's giving away tomorrow's supper, and throwing herself fearlessly on the abundant providential care of God. She's not holding back “just in case.” Nor is she “saving for a rainy day.” Her sacrifice is before all else an audacious declaration that she trusts in God's promises to multiple her sacrifice with blessings, to give her a harvest one hundredfold. Jesus notes her charity, but he does so by praising her faith, her faith in God's loving-care. 

Here's the question: in making a sacrifice to God—whether it's time, talent, or treasure—do you give from everything you have and everything you are? Do you give of yourself and what you have in a way that clearly indicates to God and everyone else that you know you are totally dependent on God for everything you have and everything you are? That's the underlying truth of this gospel story: the widow isn't giving anything that she herself wasn't first given by God. Those two coins were gifts from God. And she gives them back to Him, trusting that He will keep His promise to multiply them. In a strange way, both poverty and wealth are extreme ends of the same spiritual temptation: I will keep what little I have to care for myself (a lack of faith) AND I will only give a little out of my surplus wealth (lack of charity). Both are tempted to deny the power of God's promise to care for those who love Him. Both are tempted to hoard what they have—one a little and one a lot—against a dangerous and unpredictable future. A soul moved to make the perfect sacrifice knows that all he/she has was first a gift from God, a gift to be given in turn so that more gifts might be given. Our livelihood as followers of Christ is always, always first and last the love of God and His boundless mercy. 

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  1. You just don't let up, do you? :-) Cruised right through that first paragraph, then toward the end of the 2nd paragraph...BAM! I get hit with "throwing herself fearlessly on the abundant providential care of God"..."not holding back"..."audacious declaration that she trusts in God's promises". Do I give from everything I have and everything I am? No - not even close. If I were giving so completely, what you have written wouldn't have hit me as hard and as close to home as it did.

    What I appreciate about a homily like this is that you don't hold back: you put the ideal right out there in front of me, and remind me: no excuses! But because it did hit me so close, I honestly can't tell you if this homily has any merit beyond the fact that it was just what I needed to hear right now, today. Even if hearing it was somewhat on the painful side for me.

    Thank you, Father P.

    1. Being Catholic is ALL about embracing the Perfect while living with the Imperfect. Makes for quite a bumpy ride! ;-)