By Msgr. Joseph Calise
Whenever my siblings or I would ask my mother what she wanted for her birthday, she would almost invariably answer, “Just give me a peaceful day.” As kids, we presumed that was her way of suggesting we not spend money we didn’t really have but, in actuality, it was an honest request and a very difficult one for four kids to fulfill. The value of the gift was not measurable financially.
Today’s Gospel passage offers a contrast in giving. The large sums the wealthy are putting into the treasury are accounted as less than the simple coins of the widow because of the effect the gift has on her. The wealthy would hardly miss their gifts; they had, as the saying goes, “plenty more where that came from.” Yet, this simple widow gave of her need; her suffering would be increased because she wanted to ease the needs of others.
The play, “A Man for All Seasons”, was originally written for BBC radio. When the author, Richard Bolt, began to grow in fame, he reworked the series for the main stage in 1960. It tells the story of Saint Thomas More and his refusal to swear an Oath of Supremacy conceding that King Henry VIII was the head of the Church in England. The prosecutor in his trial was Oliver Cromwell. At a very poignant moment in the play, Cromwell calls Richard Rich to the stand. A former ally of More’s, Rich perjures himself and his testimony leads to a conviction.
As Rich is stepping down from the stand, Thomas notices that he is wearing a pendant that identifies him as the Attorney General of Wales. Indicating the pendant, More tells Rich, “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for Wales!” Although there may be many possible examples of people giving up what really matters for political power in the world today, the message can easily be extended.
There are many who donate because they want to see their name in print or on walls in churches and auditoriums. (When the receiver chooses to acknowledge a gift that way, it is a sign of gratitude and appreciation. I refer here to those who only make the gift because they want the recognition.). Then, it is no longer a gift but a purchase. The “donor” has purchased attention and food for his ego.
There are those too, however, who give because they believe in a cause or the mission of an institution. Jerry Lewis’ Muscular Dystrophy Telethon showed dramatically how the five and ten dollar donations of thousands of donors would add up. He would say often during the Labor Day weekend that every gift helps and would encourage that those who could only send a small amount not be embarrassed by corporate gifts into thinking their gifts would not help. Every gift was part of the grand total. Yet, those who gave the five and ten dollar gifts may have felt it more than the corporations. They gave of their need and understood the concept of sacrifice.
In today’s first reading, the widow of Zarephath has already decided that there was nothing left for her to do but prepare something that would end her and her son’s suffering from poverty. Yet, at the request of Elijah the prophet, she first prepares something for him to eat.
Giving from her want, the Scriptures tell us, “She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.” Because of her willingness to give even in her need, she received much more in return. Real giving, like Christ’s ultimate gift of self on the Cross, comes from the heart’s sense of purpose and brings its own reward.
Readings for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings: 17:10-16
Mark: 12:38-44 or 12:41-44
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.