“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.”
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Prayer for Trust
O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness,
Give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength.
Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power,
So that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to You,
We shall see Your hand, Your purpose, Your will through all things.
We ask this in your holy name.
Almighty and merciful God,
graciously keep from us all adversity,
so that, unhindered in mind and body alike,
we may pursue in freedom of heart
the things that are yours.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
1 Kgs 17:10-16
In those days, Elijah the prophet went to Zarephath.
As he arrived at the entrance of the city,
a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her,
“Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.”
She left to get it, and he called out after her,
“Please bring along a bit of bread.”
She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives,
I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar
and a little oil in my jug.
Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks,
to go in and prepare something for myself and my son;
when we have eaten it, we shall die.”
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid.
Go and do as you propose.
But first make me a little cake and bring it to me.
Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.
For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
‘The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'”
She left and did as Elijah had said.
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,
as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 2583 After Elijah had learned mercy during his retreat at the Wadi Cherith, he teaches the widow of Zarephath to believe in The Word of God and confirms her faith by his urgent prayer: God brings the widow’s child back to life.1
The sacrifice on Mount Carmel is a decisive test for the faith of the People of God. In response to Elijah’s plea, “Answer me, O LORD, answer me,” the Lord’s fire consumes the holocaust, at the time of the evening oblation. The Eastern liturgies repeat Elijah’s plea in the Eucharistic epiclesis.
Finally, taking the desert road that leads to the place where the living and true God reveals himself to his people, Elijah, like Moses before him, hides “in a cleft of he rock” until the mysterious presence of God has passed by.2 But only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled face of him whom they sought; “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [shines] in the face of Christ,” crucified and risen.3
1 Cf. 1 Kings 17:7-24.
2 Cf. 1 Kings 19:1-14; cf. Ex 33:19-23.
3 2 Cor 4:6; cf. Lk 9:30-35.
“Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and, anyone who welcomes a holy man because he is a holy man will have a holy man’s reward. If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward” (Mt. 10: 41-42). These are the words of Christ, the Son of God, when recommending his poor disciples to the charity of the people. Doubtless his mention of prophet and the cup of cold water, would recall to the minds of his hearers the story of Elijah and the kind-hearted widow of Zarephath. Elijah was one of the most popular and best-remembered prophets of the Old Testament. On another occasion (Lk. 4: 25), our Lord reminded his doubting hearers in his home-town of Nazareth how God sent Elijah to this good widow of Sidon, who was not one of the Chosen People, although there were many widows in Israel then in need of help but unworthy of it. They would not have shared their last morsel of bread with a stranger even though he was God’s representative.
The lesson of today’s reading–reemphasized as it is by our divine Lord’s own word–is clear for us. We must be charitable towards a needy neighbor, not only when we have some superfluous goods which we can give away, but even when we have only the bare essentials for ourselves. We are expected to share these with one who has not even that little. But is not this demanding too much of us? Can Christian charity command us to shorten our own lives in order to prolong those of a needy neighbor for a few days or weeks? The answer is very clearly “yes”: we must be ready not only to risk our own lives in order to save that of a neighbor but we must be ready to lay down our lives willingly, if needs be, to save a neighbor. “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15: 13); this is the ultimate in Christian charity, our Lord tells us. He put it into practice for us and he expects us to be willing to imitate him should the need arise.
We are grateful to God that Christ has had followers who fulfilled his command to the letter. They gave their lives to save others. Their noble sacrifice not only earned eternal life for them, but inspired many with a new love for God and neighbor. While making this earth a better place in which to live, it put heaven within the reach of many who would otherwise not have attained it. Most of us will never have the privilege of being called on to make the supreme sacrifice for our neighbor’s sake–but we are all called on to sacrifice some of our possessions to help a neighbor in need. Today’s story emphasizes that we must be ready to share even our scanty means with one in greater need. It also adds that God will not let such charity go unrecorded. The widow of Zarephath and her son could have had one last modest meal before they died of the famine, but her generosity made her share even that little with a stranger. She was rewarded: the little supply she had never diminished and she lived in frugal comfort all through the famine. God can never be outdone in generosity. All we have and all that we are we owe to his kindness. If we show our willingness to share with those who are in want, he will not forget our charity–he will not see us in want.
Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Praise the Lord, my soul!
The LORD keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
Praise the Lord, my soul!
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
Praise the Lord, my soul!
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
Praise the Lord, my soul!
Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands,
a copy of the true one, but heaven itself,
that he might now appear before God on our behalf.
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly,
as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary
with blood that is not his own;
if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly
from the foundation of the world.
But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages
to take away sin by his sacrifice.
Just as it is appointed that human beings die once,
and after this the judgment, so also Christ,
offered once to take away the sins of many,
will appear a second time, not to take away sin
but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 1544 Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the “one mediator between God and men.”1 The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High,” as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique “high priest after the order of Melchizedek”;2 “holy, blameless, unstained,”3 “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified,”4 that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross.
1 2 Tim 2:5.
2 Heb 5:10; cf. 6:20; Gen 14:18.
3 Heb 7:26.
4 Heb 10:14.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is evidently writing to Jews who had become followers of Christ. Again and again he stressed the superiority of the Christian religion over that of the Old Testament which they had left. The Jewish high priesthood, appointed by God through Moses, was one held in great esteem and importance all through Old Testament times, but especially after the return from Babylon–when the high priest became their political as well as their religious leader. It was the high priest who regulated all the services of the Jerusalem temple. On their great annual Day of Atonement, he alone could offer sacrifice for the sins of the people and for his own sins. On that day, he alone could enter the holy of holies–the inner sanctuary of the temple in which were kept the tables of the commandments in the Ark of the Covenant. This Ark was called God’s throne on earth. The Ark was missing from the inner sanctuary since before the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians (587 B.C.), because the prophet Jeremiah hid it in a cave on Mount Nebo according to 2 Mc. 2: 4-8. The high priest, however, still carried out the ritual of the Day of Atonement. He entered the holy of holies and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices where the Ark used to rest. This ritual was repeated each year.
The author of Hebrews says that Christ, our high priest, was superior in every way to the Jewish high priest, important though he was in the eyes of religious Jews. Christ did not have to repeat his sacrifice annually, his offering of himself as atonement for the sins of the whole world, of Jews and Gentiles, sufficed once for all. His sacrifice, unlike the temple sacrifices, was of infinite value. It was not the blood of goats and oxen that Christ offered to his Father, but the sacred blood of his body which he, the Son of God, assumed in order to become one of us and to be able to die for us. It was not into the inner sanctuary of the Jerusalem temple that Christ sent his precious offering, but into the real holy of holies, the eternal throne of his Father in heaven.
Therefore, there is no real comparison between the Jewish high priesthood and the real effective priesthood of Christ. Any effectiveness which the intermediation of the Jewish high priest had, or any value which the temple sacrifices could claim, came to the Chosen People from God’s loving mercy which had the incarnation in view. They were types and the shadows of the real intercession, the real sacrifice which God’s Son would offer not only for the Chosen People of old but for all mankind and for all time.
Do we Christians really appreciate the favors and the blessings God showered on us by sending his divine Son in human nature? By the fact of the incarnation we became brothers of Christ and adopted sons of God. This was the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan for mankind. In the meantime sin had entered our world. To atone for the sins of the world the incarnate Son of God willingly accepted to undergo his passion and death by crucifixion so that his heavenly Father would remit the spiritual death our sins merited. Thus we would be able to share in the eternal inheritance which the incarnation won for us.
Do we really appreciate the greatness of God’s love for us in planning this eternal future happiness for us and at such cost–the humiliation, sufferings and death of his only-begotten Son? With a future such as this, could we be so foolish as to let anything or any person on this earth come between us and the eternal crown God has prepared for us? Let St. Paul, the man who loved God with every fiber of his being, and gladly spent his life to bring the knowledge of God’s love for us to all the world, answer for us: “I consider that the sufferings of this life are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us . . . If God is for us who is against us? He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecutions or famine or nakedness or peril or sword . . . nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8 :18 ff).
St. Paul is in heaven. We shall be there too if we follow his advice.
In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.”
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 678 Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching.1 Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light.2 Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned.3 Our attitude to our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.4 On the Last Day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”5
CCC 2444 “The Church’s love for the poor… is a part of her constant tradition.” This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor.6 Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to “be able to give to those in need.”7 It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty.8
1 Cf. Dan 7:10; Joel 3-4; Mal 3: 19; Mt 3:7-12.
2 Cf Mk 12:38-40; Lk 12:1-3; Jn 3:20-21; Rom 2:16; I Cor 4:5.
3 Cf. Mt 11:20-24; 12:41-42.
4 Cf. Mt 5:22; 7:1-5.
5 Mt 25:40.
6 CA 57; cf. Lk 6:20-22, Mt 8:20; Mk 12:41-44.
7 Eph 4:28.
8 Cf. CA 57.
Our Lord’s severe condemnation of those Scribes whose exaggerated opinion of their own importance made a mockery of the religion they professed to live, is a serious warning to all his followers not to look for the praise and esteem of their neighbors when doing their good works, but rather to hope for God’s praise and esteem in the future world. In another context, he said to his followers: “Because of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven . . . when you give alms do not let your left hand know what your right is doing . . . and your Father who sees in secret will reward you . . . when you pray go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father . . . who sees in secret and will reward you” (Mt. 6: 1-6).
It is hardly necessary to say that our Lord is not referring to community prayers or services here. What he is condemning is the hypocrisy of the Scribes, who lengthened their garments and their prayers not in order to give glory to God but to earn the glory of their fellowmen for themselves. Pride was their predominant vice–the vice which caused the fall of angels and of man. It so governed their lives that even their best actions were vitiated by it. There is a strong inclination to pride in every one of us. The reason is that we have great gifts from God and great capabilities; but we are tempted to claim the credit for these gifts and capabilities for ourselves–whereas we owe them all to God’s generosity.
A proud Christian is surely a contradiction in terms. A Christian is a follower of Christ whose humility can never be equaled. He was God as well as man. While on earth he emptied himself, as St. Paul puts it, of his divine glory so that he could be like one of us. A follower of Christ should not try to make display of gifts which are not his own, nor try to exalt himself above his neighbor because of something he has which was not given to his neighbor. If Christ wanted to be, and indeed was like the least one among us, we must never try to raise ourselves above our neighbor. Love of neighbor is the second of the two essential commandments–there can be no true love of neighbor where there is pride.
The second incident in today’s Gospel story highlights true humility and true charity. The poor widow, forgetful of herself and of her own needs gave her all, her last penny, to help others who were in need. She made this sacrifice without publicity and without seeking the praise of her neighbors. It is this deep contrast between her outlook on life and on religion, and that of the Scribes in the first that connects the two incidents. While the Scribes sought to earn the respect and praise of their fellow-Jews–as well as all the financial gain they could come by–from the practice of the externals of their religion, this poor widow’s religion was practiced in secret and it was to God alone that she looked for any reward that he might deign to give her.
As we saw in today’s first reading: we can be sure that she was not left without the reward she deserved. The widow of Zarephath was given a temporal reward. The same generous God did not let the similar act of supreme generosity on the part of the widow in Jerusalem go unnoticed. Christ’s judgment on the Scribes implies this: They will receive the greater condemnation for their pride, and abuse of religion for their own temporal gain. On the other hand the widow’s religion was an act of complete self-renunciation: “she has put in everything she had, her whole living.”
We may never be called on to share our last morsel with a starving neighbor but if we are, we must remember that Christ gave his very life for us and has asked us to do likewise, if necessary. It may never be necessary for us to make this supreme act of self-renunciation. If, however, we are sincerely practicing our religion, we must be ever-ready to help a neighbor in need even if this cuts into our hard-earned reserves. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. used with permission of Franciscan Press
Suffering and Love
Pain is a part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with ti renunciation and pain. When we know that the way of love – this exodus, this going out of oneself – is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish… If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand why it is so important to learn how to suffer – and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
A Prayer for the Virtue of Humility
Lord Jesus, when You walked the earth,
Your humility obscured Your Kingship.
Your meekness confused the arrogant,
Hindering them from grasping Your purpose,
Your nobleness attending to the destitute.
Teach me to model after Your eminence,
To subject my human nature to humility.
Grant me a natural inclination
To never view myself greater than anyone.
Banish all lingering sparks of self-importance
That could elevate me greater than You.
Let my heart always imitate Your humility.
We ask this through your most holy name,
Lord Jesus Christ, King of all salvation.
Here is a special gift!