32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass for those in Consecrated Life – November 7, 2021
Today’s scripture readings, particularly the Old Testament passage from the Book of Kings and the gospel from Saint Mark, in their stories of two simple, poor widows and their willingness to let go of the little they had in order to respond to the needs of others, prompt all sorts of images, don’t they?
For me, the actions of these two widows, who trusted God enough to risk all that they had, take me back to stories that have lived in my family for years – stories about my great-grandparents who raised my dad after his mother died when he was just two years of age. They were both poor immigrants from Poland, arriving in this country just prior to the turn of the last century, in the early 1900’s.
I recall my grandmother very well. She lived into her 90’s and passed away when I was in high school. When we would visit her, she would often talk about life during the Great Depression in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. She and my grandfather operated a grocery store in their little neighborhood on the edge of Carbondale. My grandmother would often recall how difficult life was during that period of time and how people would come into the store with very little or no money, hoping to purchase basic supplies to keep their families fed.
I vividly remember my grandmother stating that there was a rule that was to be followed by my dad and all the family who worked in the store. If someone was unable to pay for food, you put their name on “the books.” Many of you know that “the books” was a precursor to today’s credit cards – but with a lot more risk for the storeowner. Nonetheless, no one was ever turned away.
You know the next part of the story. As time went on and the Depression waned, some families that had outstanding bills fulfilled their obligations – and some, for all sorts of reasons, did not. When my grandmother sold the store after my grandfather died, she was owed thousands of dollars.
Despite that loss of revenue, it needs to be said that my great-grandparents and their children and grandchildren whom they raised survived pretty well. I sometimes wonder if they survived as they did – in some miraculous way – because they risked what they had in order to help feed their hungry neighbors who couldn’t pay for the food to feed their families.
My great-grandparents weren’t perfect people, but like some many of your parents and grandparents who lived in a different era, they understood very well what we often forget today. Because of their simple faith and the recognition of their own poverty, they knew that the blessings of this world weren’t theirs to cling to or hoard. They knew that what they were given in life came from the generous hand of God. And they trusted that God would sustain them in life, regardless of how reckless they were in sharing what they had been given with those who had far less.
Look again at the two widows in today’s scripture passages. Neither of them gave much at all. One gave a cupful of water, a little flour and a bit of oil. The other gave two small copper coins – something by today’s standards would amount to 1/40th of a penny. Nevertheless, these two women are our teachers today.
Many of us tend to gauge our relationship with God by the things that we do, the things that we give, how reverently we say our prayers, and the work that we do to support our parish. In today’s gospel, however, Jesus helps us put into perspective the relationship with God that we so often seek to measure. The widow in today’s gospel is praised by Jesus not because of what she gave but because of who she was – a woman of faith who relied upon her God and trusted that God would walk with her in her life’s journey.
In short, greatness in the reign of God is not measured by what we have but by how authentically we embrace the great commandment to love God in our neighbor – regardless of who that neighbor might be.
During his historic visit to the United States six years ago, in a homily directed to the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Pope Francis reflected upon an American saint who life was so intimately woven into this corner of God’s kingdom – Saint Katharine Drexel.
When she spoke to Pope Leo XIII to encourage him to support the work of the missions, the Pope asked her pointedly: “What about you? What are you going to do?” … “Those words,” Pope Francis asserted, “changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission.”
Each of us has to respond to that mission as authentically as we can – not by giving lip service to the teachings of the gospel – not by merely giving from our surplus resources of time and treasure – but with honesty, humility and the recognition of our brokenness and great need for God – by serving God’s great mission as a sign of our gratitude for all that God has given to us.
Today, after a two-year hiatus as a result of the pandemic that has enveloped our world, we gather in prayer to celebrate the gift of consecrated life in the Church. We reflect upon women and men who have understood and embraced the Lord’s universal call to holiness and mission. We join today with woman and men celebrating jubilees of 25, 50, 60, 70, 75 and 80 years in religious life. Quite honestly, as I look at all of you who gather today in our cathedral – many of whom I’ve known for years and a few whom I’ve known since school days and as far back as my kindergarten experience, I can only conclude that most of you must have entered religious life when you were five! You are amazing! … Collectively, our jubilarians represent 3,895 years of service to the Church in Consecrated Life. What a blessing you all have been and continue to be for all!
My sisters and brothers, we celebrate your lives and we give thanks this day for your unique and singular contribution to the Church. More than you likely realize or appreciate, you continually challenge us to trust in the mercy, love and forgiveness of God – something that many of us in the Church forget, all too often. … Your openness to listening to the needs of God’s people, to dialoguing with them and discerning how we can walk together as sisters and brothers is a sign of your deep appreciation of how the Church best responds to the needs of a suffering world since its earliest days. … And your willingness to engage and serve the people of God – especially in your commitment to work for justice for the marginalized: immigrants, the poor, and all those oppressed by far too many who deem themselves righteous – is a unique and powerful witness to the presence of God at work in our world – especially today.
Finally, what is so inspiring and hopeful about your lives is that all that you do in service of God’s people, you do far more often than not in quiet, simple, loving yet powerful ways – feeding, healing, teaching, praying and building the Kingdom of God. … So much of what you do looks so ordinary and so natural. Yet, your commitment to mission gives life to the risen Jesus in our midst.
In his homily for the World Day of Consecrated Life last year, Pope Francis shared this beautiful words to those in consecrated life. “We give thanks for you, dear brothers and sisters in consecrated life, simple men and women who caught sight of the treasure worth more than any worldly good. And so you left behind precious things, such as possessions, such as making a family for yourselves. Why did you do this? Because you fell in love with Jesus, you saw everything in him, and enraptured by his gaze, you left the rest behind. Religious life is this vision. It means seeing what really matters in life. It means welcoming the Lord’s gift with open arms. This is what the eyes of consecrated men and women behold: the grace of God poured into their hands. The consecrated person is one who every day looks at himself or herself and says: “Everything is gift, all is grace”.
My sisters and brothers in Consecrated Life, thank you for opening your lives to the gift and blessings of God’s grace. … Thank you for challenging us to put our trust in the God who has filled your lives with hope. … Thank you for inviting us to lift our eyes beyond the overwhelming events of our lives to embrace the simple, life giving way of Jesus. … And thank you for reminding us of the treasure that is ours when we live not so much for ourselves, but for Christ, in service of our sisters and brothers.