11 November 2018

True Sacrifice

NB. A revision of the homily posted below this one. . .

32nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt Carmel Academy, NOLA

Assume for a moment that the story Jesus tells about the Widow and her two mites is not a story about being a cheerful giver but rather a story about prayer. Her two mites aren't coins; they're prayers. She's not dropping coins into the temple treasury but offering her small prayers to God. Why are her prayers better than the prayers of those who pray out of their “surplus wealth”? Jesus tells us, “. . .she, from her poverty, contribute[s] all she ha[s], her whole livelihood.” OK. But why does contributing from her “whole livelihood” make her prayers somehow better? Prayer is a form of sacrifice. We often say that we offer “sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving” to God. We might think that we are “giving something up” when we sacrifice, and there is some truth to this. Parents sacrifice for their children. Priests and religious sacrifice the possibility of having their own children to serve God exclusively. However, true sacrifice is the transformation of the ordinary into the holy; it is to make something or someone holy – set apart – by surrendering the thing or person to God for His exclusive use. Essential to true sacrifice is total surrender, giving your “whole livelihood.”

The Widow's Mite is true sacrifice b/c she is throwing herself fully into the providential care of God. She's not praying out of her leftovers, what's left when she's done with her to-do list, done with her job, done with paying the bills. Those who pray out of their “surplus wealth” are holding back enough – plus just a little more, just in case – holding back enough to make sure that all of their needs are met and then some. Being the good, middle-class Americans that we are, we instinctively understand and sympathize with those who pay the bills, put some in savings, and use a little for fun. . .then give our time and attention to God from what's left over. Prayer becomes for us our charity work, the “extra thing we do if and when there's time.” What does this sort of prayer life do for us and to us? Well, not much. It's better than nothing, I guess. But “better than nothing” isn't what Christ is asking from us. He wants it all. All of us. All of our time, talent, and treasure. He wants everything we have and everything we are 100% of the time. He can make this ridiculous demand precisely b/c he bought us on the Cross. He gave himself – all of his time, talent, and treasure; his body and blood – in sacrifice for us so that we might have life and live it most abundantly. We belong to Christ.

Jesus praises the Widow's sacrifice b/c she puts her livelihood right where it belongs – in the hands of her loving God. She publicly demonstrates her willingness to be a subject of His care, trusting fully that her needs will be met. Her generosity isn't to be measured in terms of “how much money does she give?” but rather in terms of “how much does she trust God to provide?” That's a measure wholly different from what we are used to, wholly different from what many of us would be comfortable with. But that's the measure Jesus praises. That's the measure he's calling us all to use. Total sacrifice. Make everything you have and everything you are holy. . .by surrendering to all to God.
How do we do this? First, God gets His first. In terms of prayer, this means He gets most of our time by being the focus of our time, even when we are working, playing, or resting. Second, our talents and treasures are His before they are anyone else's. In practical terms, this could mean volunteering for the Church before looking for something fun to do. It could mean, giving to the Church before buying a newer model car or upgrading to a better cell phone or taking a vacation. It could mean giving to a charity before paying the bills. Third, if every moment of every day we belong to Christ – and we do – then every moment of every day should be spent doing his work. Teaching the truth, preaching the Good News, helping those in need, healing broken relationships, forgiving sins against us, searching for ways to be a witness to our Father's mercy. And pray, pray, pray for those who most need your prayers – the souls in purgatory; persecuted Christians around the world; mothers contemplating an abortion; first responders and our military men and women and veterans; doctors and nurses; seminarians and religious novices; and most especially those who need your prayers desperately: politicians and the clergy! Trust me: you can't pray for politicians and priests enough.

For those who follow Christ there is no such thing as “surplus wealth.” Whether we talking about our time or talent or our treasure, it all belongs to God first. He gives to us what we need, and the more He gives the more He looks for us to be generous. If you would be wealthy in grace, give out of your “whole livelihood.”

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