07 November 2009

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, 1 Kings 17:10-16
Zarephath is located in what is modern day Lebanon.

This Reading offers a foretaste of the abundant blessings that would flow from God to His people via the Incarnation of Jesus Christ of Whom Elijah prefigures. In this Reading's example, God showers blessings upon a woman and her son through the intercession of Elijah the prophet. After perusing this text you might be recalling the multiplication of the loaves and fishes story in the Gospels.

There are a couple of things to consider here. First, God supplies the blessing, and Elijah intercedes on behalf of the woman and her son; but it is the woman's obedience to Elijah that seems to trigger the blessing. In other words, the woman is rewarded for taking a leap of faith. The other thing to consider is something that Catholics don't talk about too much -- the biblical principle of tithing. The woman barely has enough ingredients to feed herself and her son but obeys Elijah's command to feed him first and then go and prepare something for herself and her son. She not only displays an act of faith by trusting in the words of Elijah but also gives to God or the work of God first. She trusted that what was left would be at the very least sufficient. It was not only sufficient but abundant.

It's easy to get caught up in negativity when serving God. "I'm too nervous to be a Reader at Mass." – "My voice isn't polished enough to sing in the choir." – "Father will yell at me if I make a mistake while serving at the altar." -- "I don't have the endurance to get involved with the Pro-Life movement," – etc., etc., etc. God is looking for leaps of faith and says to human hearts: "Give Me what you have and watch what I can do with it."

A poor, humble girl named Miriam became the Mother of God. One of Christianity's staunchest enemies became one of its greatest apostles in Saint Paul. An uneducated Polish nun named Faustina became the herald of the Divine Mercy message. A thespian in Nazi occupied Poland would later become Pope John Paul II. Jean-Marie Vianney was a man of limited knowledge who failed his entrance exams to enter the seminary; but he was certain of his vocation and would eventually become a priest and convert the entire town of Ars. This man of limited knowledge is today the patron saint of priests.

Saints come from all walks of life and for many of them it was an unbelievable and miraculous road that led to their eventual canonization. But it was their faith that helped pave that road. They gave what they had and God multiplied it. Somewhere, someone was the first to offer the prayer: "Lord, I've done all I can do – now do all You can do."

Second Reading, Hebrews 9:24-28
Saint Augustine of Canterbury taught that when Christ died He put chains around the devil in the sense that he would not be able to tempt us beyond our limits of resistance. The reality of this teaching might cause the shedding of tears when reflecting on the reality of our own lives. But our brokenness is never irreparable unless we make that choice.

Christ will appear a second time and bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him. To eagerly await Him is to be faithful to the Gospel message. Christ also dwells in another sanctuary not made by hands – the human soul. Eagerly awaiting Him and living out the Gospel means to pray that the Indwelling of Christ will be manifested daily in our lives so that Christ can clearly be seen in us.

Jesus only needed to offer Himself once. We are sinners but the gift of Christ's mercy is the cure for our illness. And with the cure comes yet another gracious invitation from Jesus to be in His service.

Gospel, Mark 12:38-44
After reading this Gospel don't be tempted to throw away your clothes and jewelry and put on sackcloth unless you have a very radical Saint Francis-like calling to serve Christ. Don't shy away from sitting in the front pew at your parish. Don't feel that you shouldn't pray before the Blessed Sacrament but rather somewhere that you cannot be seen; and don't feel like you need to cut your prayer time in half. It would be, however, beneficial for your soul not to engage in devouring the houses of widows.

What is in your heart? That is a key question to understanding this Gospel. It isn’t so much important that anyone else knows what is in your heart; but it is important that you know because God knows. Scripture tells us that God does not judge by the appearances of a man, but instead looks into the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).

Traditionally this Gospel story is titled, "The Widow's Mite". According to what is written in the Talmud, there were thirteen receptacles or containers in which to place offerings in the temple. These receptacles were shaped like trumpets. Jesus, proving Himself to be God, brings to the attention of His apostles the hidden truth behind the widow's offering. He does this to stress the importance of the intention of the heart when serving God. The moral worth of the widow's offering is measured in accordance to the sacrifice she made.

There are virtually two reasons for doing anything. One's intentions will either be honorable or dishonorable. In matters of prayer, for example, honor and dishonor can be more specific by suggesting that on the honorable side, one prays out of true love for God and seeks a more intimate relationship with Him. On the dishonorable side, it is done to be somewhat glitzy. Do I go to church and pray before the Monstrance or Tabernacle because I truly love Jesus and have a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; or is it because I want to impress Father? Am I singing in the choir because God gave me this voice and I'm using it to serve Him; or is it because of all the compliments I receive from parishioners?

Temptation is a powerful force and it's easy for even the most devout to occasionally catch themselves on the wrong side of the fence. Sometimes holy intentions result in nothing more than feeding egos. Jesus teaches us that gifts should not be judged by their absolute value. How true this is, otherwise, how could God love us so much? Deeming God as our greatest gift maps out for us a life of service to Him; and even when holy intentions go awry His boundless mercy heals us and once again sets our sights to giving Him all the glory. "He must increase; but I must decrease" (John 3:30).