She gave all she had…

She gave all she had… Mother Teresa was a wonderful example of charity
The Sunday Gospel

The first reading and Gospel today (Mark 12:38-44) feature poor widows who gave all they had. The evangelist Mark had a habit of following the teaching of Jesus with the example of some person who embodies or exemplifies that lesson. Last Sunday we heard the answer of Jesus to the question of what was the most important commandment of religion. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength: and love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus called the attention of his disciples to the poor widow who put into the collection box everything she had, all she had to live on. In giving her all she is a model of discipleship. And in doing so she anticipates the total self-giving of Jesus on the cross, which was to happen shortly afterwards.

There is a contrast between the humble, unobtrusive giving of the widow with the showy, hypocritical religion of some of the temple staff. God looks at the inner heart and is not deluded by flowing vestments and titles of honour. There are no calculators in heaven, only the scales of love. As St Paul expressed it, if I give away all that I possess but without love, it profits me nothing. A simple act of generous love is of more value in God’s eyes than some massive scheme without love.

Where do we stand today?

Where do we as a community of disciples stand today? From the beginning of his pontificate, by taking Francis of Assisi as his patron, Pope Francis announced that his focus would be primarily on observing the Gospel of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. He refers to the beatitudes as the identity card of a Christian. St Paul wrote that Christ became poor for our sake so that we might become rich through his poverty…the poverty of being born in a stable, forced to migrate from persecution, living a simple lifestyle, the poverty of an unjust trial and being treated as a criminal, and the poverty of death. He identified himself with people in need: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat.” In The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis proclaimed, “This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. In their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to be evangelised by them”. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The rich young man went away sad

A few weeks ago, our Sunday Gospel was about a rich young man who was invited by Jesus to sell his property portfolio and give the money to the poor. But his face fell and he went away sad for he was a man of great wealth. We should not be surprised that Pope Francis’ vision of a Church of the poor and for the poor is being rejected by the wealthy Church. There is a danger of being so heavenly minded that one is no earthly good. The Joy of the Gospel mentions various ways of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, ethical systems bereft of kindness and brands of ahistorical fundamentalism. Selective traditionalism is ahistorical because it goes back maybe four or five hundred years but does not go back to the Church of the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and the apostolic letters. The results of the synod, walking together with Christ, will be very interesting.

Purchasing is a moral issue

Getting back to today’s Gospel. The wealthy people in the temple gave money they had over. Fair dues to them. But we must ask where does necessity end and surplus begin? Definitions of need are relative to our expectations. What we regarded as luxuries some years ago are now seen as necessities. We are slaves to consumerism. I must have…but do I really need it? One of the great advances of today is that we are beginning to realise that everything in this world is related to everything else. So, what is surplus to my needs does not belong to me but to those who are lacking the necessities of life. Pope Benedict wrote that justice gives to you what is yours but charity gives what is mine. In this consumeristic society, purchasing is a moral issue.

Giving at Christmas

We are into November so it is not too soon to call a conscientious limit on Christmas spending. Instead of racking your brain trying to find a suitable present for people who already have more than enough, why not send a card to say that in their name you have made a donation to some charitable organisation like Trócaire or the Society of St Vincent de Paul?

Money, or what it can purchase, is not the only way of giving to others. Giving our time to others is wonderful: voluntary time given to any organisation that helps people…a charitable society, a sports club, the local parish council, a choir. Have time for others, to listen to them, to keep in touch, to be sensitive to their needs spoken or unspoken.

The joy of giving

Mother Teresa was informed of a family with eight children who were starving. She went to them with a bowl of rice. The mother divided the rice and went out. “Where did you go to?”, Mother Teresa asked. “To our neighbours who were hungry too”. Mother Teresa decided not to bring more rice that evening because she wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. That is the joy of the Gospel which Pope Francis saw when he visited the very poor people in the shanty suburbs of Buenos Aires. We need to be evangelised by them.

Today’s first reading is about the widow who shared her last fist of meal and drop of oil with God’s prophet. For the rest of that famine, the jar of meal was not spent nor the jug of oil emptied. Praise the Lord!

Do I trust God sufficiently to share my last ounce in his name?

Gospel Reflections and Prayers by Fr Silvester O’Flynn is published by Columba Books.