11 November 201832 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
32 Ordinary Time
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 12:41-44

A government social worker was visiting New England farms. He had the authority to give federal dollars to poor farmers. He found an elderly widow farming a few acres. Her house was clean but tiny. There did not appear to be much food in the house. The windows had no screens to keep out the summer flies. The exterior needed a paint job. He wondered how she could survive. He asked, "What would you do if the government gave you five hundred dollars?" Her answer was, "I would give it to the poor." She was similar to the widow whom Daniel Webster had in mind. He was asked, "What moved you to become a Christian?" He replied, "Studying the way an old woman in New Hampshire lived." The women of these two stories had much in common with today's Gospel widow. They were obviously cut out of the same bolt of exquisite damask. All three have much to tell us.

Do most Catholics give a fair share of their income to the Church and to charities? A Gallup poll answered that query. In a recent year, American Catholics gave 1.3% of their income to parish and charities. But Protestants gave 2.4% and Jews 3.8%. Our comparative tightness with our dollars comes despite Rousseau's admonition. "When a man dies, he carries in his hands only that which he has given away." We would do well to recall the question asked about the wealthy man who died. "How much money did he leave? The answer came promptly. "All of it!" Who of us has ever seen a U Haul hitched to a hearse? The title of a 1938 film says it all: You Can't Take It With You. The Nazarene must appreciate the boldness of those who tithe. Incidentally He Himself did the same in the synagogue at Nazareth for most of His adult life.

A survey reveals while 44% of Baptists tithe, but 4% of Catholics do. Giving 10% of one's income to the church and charities can be a frightening sum to consider. But those who do it testify that God has never let them down. Most of us are just too fearful of finding out whether that will be the case. So, we shall die wondering. And, more than likely, we are destined to die with regrets. Research by Patrick Carney revealed that the highest percentage of Catholic contributions in the New York diocese comes from African-Americans in Central Harlem. Most of us Caucasians have higher incomes than the majority of these people. But they have more in common with the woman of Mark's Gospel than we. These people would remind us that faith motivates people to open their wallets. Perhaps they have in mind Paul's advice in 2 Corinthians 9:7, "God loves a cheerful giver."

Bertrand Russell wrote, "To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness." Too often the comfortable give to God as though they were poor. And the poor give to Him as though they were wealthy. Many Catholics are more generous to waiters than to God. They give up to 20% of their bill. That is double-tithing. They would be embarrassed and afraid to give to waiters what they give to God. He deserves not a tip but a tribute. Someone has enumerated four different types of giving. The first is called grudge giving. I hate to part with this twenty dollars but I will. The second is shame giving. I must match whatever the Jones family is giving. The third is calculated giving. We part with our money with what, someone deliciously called, a "lively sense of favors to come." Bingos, Las Vegas nights, and raffle tickets fit in very nicely in this category. The final category is thanksgiving. I part with my funds precisely because God has been so wonderfully generous to me.

The widow of today's Gospel fits comfortably into this area. This tale also points up another truth about our Christian selves. The majority of us do not fully give ourselves to the Christ. We are marking time with our Catholic lives. We are hedging our bets. The clever Mark situates his famous story during the last week in the life of the Nazarene. None too subtly he is reminding us that in a few days He will give His life for us on Calvary. What do we give Him in return? Thus the Gospel reminds us that we should give, in Cardinal Mercier's words, not only what we have but also what we are. Remember this epitaph on an English gravestone. "What I kept I lost. What I spent I had. What I gave I have." 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
32 Ordinary Time
Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time: On Impoverished Widows

I would like to begin this afternoon by focusing in on the plight of widows as presented in the Bible. In ancient times if a man died, his widow was in a precarious situation if she did not have an adult son to protect her and care for her. The widow from the first reading, the widow of Zeraphath, was suffering from the famine. She did have a son, but he was a little child. Imagine her horror when she realized that she could scrape just a little more food for her son and herself, before they would both starve to death. No one cared about her, no one except God who sent the prophet Elijah to her. But first, she had to trust in God. She had to follow the law of hospitality, caring for the stranger. And God rewarded her generosity. Elijah's successor as prophet for Israel, Elisha, came upon another widow who cried to him, "Creditors have come to take my two children away as slaves."

She had no defender. She was at the mercy of dishonest judges. We also see this in the first part of today's Gospel where Jesus attacks the scribes who devour the houses of widows. The Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures places a curse on anyone who would deprive widows of justice, but the fact of the matter is that shrewd businessmen found ways around the laws to take advantage of these defenseless women. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah and Malachi all note that the land suffers the sin of those who abuse widows. One of the most beautiful stories in the Bible is the story of a widow and her daughter-in-law, Naomi and Ruth from the Book of Ruth. When Naomi's husband and sons died, she was left without any support. She told her daughters-in-law to return to their fathers' homes for their own protection. One, Orpah, left her. The other, Ruth, a Moabite, not a Hebrew, stayed with Naomi to care for her.

"Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people. Your God, my God." Naomi returned to Judea, to her native Bethlehem along with Ruth. In her desperation Naomi cried to the people there, "No longer call me Naomi, a name that means "pleasant". Instead, call me Mara, a name that means "bitter". Naomi and Ruth survived on gleaning whatever was left over in the barley fields after the harvesters finished their work. God rewarded Ruth through a rich farmer Boaz, who was attracted by the young woman's beauty, her virtue and her plight. He told his laborers to be sure to leave enough for Ruth and Naomi to glean.

Boaz and Ruth married and God rewarded them in a way beyond their fondest imagination. One of their great grandchildren would be King David. Another descendent, a thousand years away, would be Jesus Christ. God can never be outdone in generosity. Now, let's look at the widow of the Gospel reading. Jesus' statement that she gave from her poverty her whole livelihood was a praise of her generosity. It was also a condemnation of society who had left her so destitute that she, like the widow of Zeraphath, had nothing left to rely on. But she was rich. She was rich in faith. Jesus contrasted the widow with those with money who gave from their surplus, but who did not have the faith to give from their need. So often the poor are more generous than the rich. Back to the widow in the Gospel. How had this widow become impoverished?

Had bankers mismanaged her money so that she had lost the little she had? Had shrewd people found ways to take advantage of her? Or was she merely a victim of the economic system of her day? How had it happened that society could take advantage of the destitute? How does it happen that society continues to take advantage of those who have no protection? Our recent Popes, particularly Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Francis, have written quite a lot about the sinful structures of society. St. John Paul II suffered through the reign of Nazi Terror in Poland and the destruction of thought by the communists. He experienced the plight of the poor and the worship of materialism of the capitalists.

St. John Paul II saw evil in all three, fascism, communism and materialistic capitalism. Pope Francis has been true to his determination to lead the Church to be mindful of the poor. Both popes have written about ideologies that have held and continue to hold the world hostage to sin. Yet, they do not see these ideologies as some sort of beings in their own rights. Rather, be they fascism, communism or materialistic capitalism, these ideologies are constructed in such a way that they profit by preying upon the helpless. They are established and supported by people whose sum total of personal sins have formed them into vehicles for their illicit gain. Those who formed and supported the Nazi's concept and glorification of Aryan supremacy saw their union as an opportunity to steal the goods and lands of other people be they Jews within Germany or Europe or gypsies, Poles, Slavs, etc. The Nazis were not aliens from another world.

They were people like you and me who under the guise of nationalism saw an opportunity to profit from the weakness of others. It was the sum total of personal sins that formed Nazism. There were many in Germany who were not Nazis but who quietly supported them when they realized the gain they received through their sins. In the same way, communism evolved from the ideal of workers sharing equally in the profit of their work to the destruction of all morality by those who wished to steal the goods of some for the sake of others. Since morality and communism could not exist, God had to be eliminated from the communist country. But the communists were also not aliens from anther planet. They were people who sought to take advantage of others by devising a religion of the social order to replace the spirituality of God. The complaints that both popes have made regarding materialistic capitalism target those in business who disregard the rights of the impoverished for the sake of the wealthy. If people in Latin America, Asia or Africa are living a substandard existence so that Europeans and Americans can benefit from cheap labor, so be it.

If their children have to work in factories so our children can have cheaper Nikes, so be it. How has our society come to this? Materialistic capitalism did not fall out of the sky. It resulted from the number of people who firmly believe that the wealthy have the right to take advantage of the poor. Some will actually say, "Might makes right." Others will sight an economic application of Darwinian evolution, "the right people get the stuff, the wrong people don't." They will say and believe that the present situation of people in the world, the division of the world into the haves and have nots, is merely the survival of the fittest. Materialistic Capitalism, like Nazism and Communism, is the sum total of personal sins, the decision to take advantage of the less fortunate for personal gain. We have quite a challenge here. We live in a capitalistic society.

Therefore, we, the Church, must be determined that the presence of God animate the decisions of business. We cannot allow the rich to gain from taking advantage of the poor. We have to protect widows. Any doctor will tell you that the first step to healing is recognition of the sickness. We need to be aware that to the extent that we participate in the concept that some must lose so others can gain, we are uniting our personal sins of greed and materialism to the sum total of a sinful society. For this we need the mercy of God. It is not that wealth is bad. What is wrong and sinful is using improper means to gain wealth. What is wrong and sinful is wasting wealth without regard to the poor around us. Jesus marveled that a widow who had so little gave to the Temple Treasury. He rejoices when those like her are cared for by society. We, the rich, should rejoice when there is care for the poor. Indeed, the strength of our society, and any society, is measured by the concern we have for our weakest members. We need to care for widows.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
32 Ordinary Time
Surplus Wealth and Poverty
(November 11, 2018)

Bottom line: In a world of surplus wealth alongside terrible poverty. Jesus does not offer a political solution but something much deeper... In praising the impoverished widow Jesus speaks about "surplus wealth" and "poverty". This contrast continues to plague our world and nation. Some have accumulated substantial - even excessive - wealth while others live in desperate need. Members of our 2018 Peru delegation saw this contrast. As part of their participation in the Mary Bloom Center tutoring program they had the opportunity to visit some of the children's homes. A family of five lives in a one-room adobe hut. At night they spread a mat to sleep on their dirt floor. A teenager in our delegation commented on how little the children have yet they seem happier than our children. We have so much yet we find plenty to complain and get upset about. In our society we have a wealth surplus and a happiness deficit. Is there a way out of this dilemma? There is! Jesus presents a two-step plan.

First recognize that for a disciple there is no such thing as surplus wealth. All that I have comes from God and belongs to him. The word "mine" is not part of our vocabulary. You and I came into the world naked and we will leave the same way. We need to keep reminding ourselves about that simple fact - and like Job say, "the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Lord!" Once we acknowledge God's sovereignty we are ready for the second step: If everything belongs to God then I am simply an administrator - his steward. To do that I have to be thoughtful. Not impulsive, but thoughtful. Before I can, I must pray to ask God's light. Then form a plan - and follow through. That's why we have our annual stewardship renewal. It's not just that the parish needs your support. We do, of course. We cannot fulfill our mission without your support.

But even more important, you need to make an act of trust in God. You do that by making a thoughtful, proportional and planned commitment. It's amazing once we make that step, how much everything else falls into place. In the Gospels we see that no one is so poor he has nothing to give. Jesus doesn't say to the widow, "you are foolish to give your last coin to the temple treasury. You need it more than they do". No! Jesus praises her. "From her poverty," Jesus says, "she has contributed all..." You know, we Catholics have lost sight of the fact that Jesus calls every disciple to stewardship. In Latin America, when Mormons and Evangelicals make a convert, they teach him to tithe: to set aside the first fruits for God. And you know what? Tithing brings blessings. When a person dedicates first fruits to God, he begins to prosper in unexpected ways. I've seen it over and over again, including in my own life. No one can outdo God in generosity. For sure we live in a world of surplus wealth alongside terrible poverty. Jesus does not offer a political solution but something much deeper. Recognize that all we have and are comes from God. We are administrators of his wealth. For that reason Jesus praises the poor widow. Let's be like her. As Jesus says, she contributed all. Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
32 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
32 Ordinary Time
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today we are given for our consideration the story of the Widow's Mite. This text comes at the last stage of Jesus' ministry. He has arrived in Jerusalem where he knows he is to face his death on the Cross and in the few days available to him he teaches the people in the precincts of the Temple. During this short period Jesus covers a lot of ground. He cleanses the Temple, gives them the parable of the fig tree, defends his authority to the Chief Priests, tells the people the parable of the Tenants of the Vineyard, answers the question about taxes, argues with the Sadducees about the resurrection, gives instruction about the great commandment and then points out the poor widow and highlights her as an example of how a true follower of Jesus should act. Then Jesus starts to talk in more apocalyptic language about the Last Days before he makes his arrangements to celebrate the Passover and the events that are to follow. We should see this short text about the widow and her small coin in context with everything else that is going on. Jesus presents her as an example of true discipleship because she gave everything that she possessed to God.

Jesus is telling his disciples that they ought to do the same, that they ought to make really serious sacrifices for the sake of the Kingdom. According to Jesus it is not how much you pay into the Temple that counts but how much it costs you. The actual amount is irrelevant, it is whether what you give hurts you that matters. A millionaire might make a generous donation but it probably doesn't make much difference to him. But this poor widow puts all she has into the Temple without any expectation of gaining anything because she knows that all she possesses comes ultimately from God and that it should be returned to him. The fact that this woman is a widow is also of importance. By definition a widow has known suffering since she has experienced bereavement. She has suffered the loss of her husband, the loss of protection, the loss of status, the loss of income and in addition now experiences social stigma. In all these ways she is poorer in the eyes of this world; but of course, she is that much richer in the eyes of Jesus Jesus has been debating with the Sadducees, they are men of position and probably also of wealth.

They regard themselves as socially and religiously way above this poor widow whom they believe to be someone quite insignificant. But Jesus is making the point, as he does over and over again, that in the eyes of God it is the insignificant ones who have the greater status. Those who have power, position and wealth in this world will find that they will have the lowest places in the Kingdom of God. Jesus constantly underlines that the values of the Kingdom of God are not the values of this world. Here on earth we are concerned about status and wealth, but God disregards these things and looks at the heart. What God is interested in his genuineness, humility and sincerity. He is not interested in externals, rather he is interested in the heart, in the motives that drive a person. The Christian understands these things, the true Christian is concerned with the heart, with love for our neighbour and with the authentic worship of God. Nobody these days thinks much about those Sadducees, they are a forgotten footnote of history.

But we all know about that nameless widow with her small coin. We see her as a model of true discipleship and as a faithful servant of God. Today is Remembrance Sunday and immediately after this mass we cross the road and go to the Fire Station opposite the Church for our Act of Remembrance. You will be aware that on the 16th November 1940 the Fire Station had a direct hit from a bomb and six Fire Brigade personnel were killed. The blast from the bomb damaged our Church Organ and blew out most of our stained glass. So, it is certainly very appropriate that we join with the Fire Brigade for this simple ceremony of remembrance.

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the cessation of the First World War which ended in 1918 at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. We abhor all war, but yet we feel it is important to remember those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom. There was a time in the nineteen seventies and eighties when Remembrance Day ceremonies were going out of fashion and fewer and fewer people attended them. But, actually, these days, although there are far less people who remember the war, acts of remembrance are much better attended. This is surely a good thing. We remember not only those who gave their lives and made sacrifices in the First and Second World Wars but we include all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in wars in more recent years. Our purpose is not to glorify war but to acknowledge the sacrifices of so many people who gave their lives so that we might live in freedom. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen. Father Alex's sermons are available as a Kindle e-book.

These homilies may be copied and adapted for your own use; however, they may not be commercially published without permission of the author.