Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 11, 2012
1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

            The prophet Elijah is one of the oldest figures in the Old Testament and the land where he lived is quite arid. He arrives at the outskirts of a small city where he encounters a woman who is dying of hunger and thirst. He asks her for a cup of water and then a modest piece of bread. Respecting the traveler, she tells him she will offer him her customary hospitality, but with few scarce resources left to her, she and her son will imminently die. Elijah is taken with her generosity because he knows she is barely subsisting and yet she cares for her neighbor’s needs before considering her own.

            Elijah assures her that God is with her. Her supply of flour and her jug of oil will not go dry until the Lord provides rain from the sky so that she can grow crops that will sustain her. Elijah stays with the widow and her son for a whole year and their nutritional needs are supplied. The widow's trust in Elijah’s word is enough for her to keep giving what little she has with others.

            Jesus sits with his friends opposite the treasury as they watch people place their offerings into the collection. We know from the sayings of Jesus that he is not fond of the accumulation of wealth by a small minority of people. In this scene, Jesus is largely silent when some Jews place large sums of money into the treasury as part of their religious obligation to care for their neighbors. (It seems kind to affirm them for their responsible compassion.) When a poor widow makes her offering of two cents, Jesus erupts in delight. He knows that widows and orphans are to be cared for by others and this woman demonstrates that she, in her poverty, is still able to care for others before herself.

            Widows are the vulnerable ones in the male-dominated biblical culture. With no one to provide for her livelihood, she relies upon practical care and the goodwill offerings of others for daily basic needs. Perhaps she had her children’s family to take her in, but she would not have any meaningful income to supplement her subsistent life. In the eyes of the law, she is exempt from making an offering because she is targeted as one of the recipients of the temple’s benefices. What irony. This widow and the widow who provided for Elijah made sure that others were cared for before they thought about their own needs. This is thoughtful caring based on gratitude and concern.

Widows experience a great deal in life and many obtain great wisdom. While they would not wish anyone to be in their situation, their loss and suffering teach them how to live in gratitude. They know that grieving is difficult and filled with fear of an unknown future, but through the sympathy and good will of others, they find good fortune in learning how to receive graciously. They depend upon others’ generosity without developing a culture of feeling either like an entitled welfare recipient on the one hand or debased and ashamed on the other. They navigate the complexities of relating to others delicately. They withstand the trials of life and find that God has always been near to them during these times of loss. From their rich life experiences, these widows put the concerns of others before their very needs, not because they have the means, but because they have the heart to do so. They value life and want to be part of the system that provides enough for others. This alone provides meaning, worth, dignity, and satisfaction.

Many times homilies talk about the magnanimous actions of these widows who put their trust in God and in their religion. They surely do that. I’m not so sure their motivations were due solely to the Temple duty and religious observances. I think it has much more to do with valuing life itself and wanting to be part of something larger. They want to belong to a system that keeps life moving forward. They realize their contribution is small, but that life goes on. We all need to move forward – slowly and with deliberate choices – to be part of something larger that provides for the next generations. Onwards and upwards we go – knowing we live in a world much larger than we can comprehend, and we choose life – in all our actions!

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Paul in Titus sets out his rationale for leaving Crete and establishes authority within the churches to elect priests and bishops to serve the needs of the people. The priest is to be blameless, married only once with believing children, and not accused of rebelliousness or licentiousness. A bishop is not to be arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy, but is to be hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, blameless, self-controlled, and holding to sound doctrine. The people are to act like priests and bishops as well acting in faith, endurance, and love. Paul establishes a moral code for everyone including older women and younger men. Believers are to remain under the control of civil magistrates and authorities and to be obedient to every good enterprise. They are to imitate the love of Christ. ~ In Philemon, Paul enjoys much joy and encouragement from the people’s love. Paul is an old man by now. He is sending Onesimus, once a slave, back to the people to be received as an equal and as one having obtained a status as a free man. ~ In his Second Letter, John writes to a Chosen Lady to implore her to remain faithful to the commandments because there are many deceivers who are trying to get her and her children off track. In this Third Letter, he asks them to continue on a path worthy of God and to accept nothing from the pagans. The community is to work together to support those in need.

Gospel: In Luke, Jesus exclaims that things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur. The Apostles ask him to increase their faith so they do not fall into sin. The believers are to be like servants who do all they have been commanded and then acknowledge that they are still unprofitable servants. Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem through Samaria and Galilee. He enters a village where he cures 10 lepers and one of them, a Samaritan, returns to give thanks. The Pharisees ask him when the Kingdom of God will take place and he responds that it cannot be observed and no one will announce it. We are to read the signs of the times. However, he declares that the Son of Man must first suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation. Answering questions about the end times, Jesus tells them that many people will be unprepared. Many will be destroyed without a chance for repentance. Families will be surprised to know that a few will be taken up from them while others are left where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus tells them a parable about the necessity of praying always. He tells of the persistent widow who wore down a judge who neither feared God nor respected any human being. God will secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night.  

Saints of the Week

November 11: Martin of Tours, bishop (316-397), became an Roman soldier in Hungary because he was born into a military family. After he became a Christian, he left the army because he saw his faith in opposition to military service. He settled in Gaul and began its first monastery. He was proclaimed bishop in 371 and worked to spread the faith in at time of great uncertainty and conflict. He divided sections of his diocese into parishes.

November 12: Josaphat, bishop and martyr (1580-1623) was a Ukranian who entered the Basilian order and was ordained in the Byzantine rite. He was named the archbishop of Polotsk, Russia and attempted to unite the Ukrainian church with Rome. His opponents killed him. He is the first Eastern saint to be formally canonized.

November 13: Francis Xavier Cabrini, religious (1850-1917) was an Italian-born daughter to a Lombardy family of 13 children. She wanted to become a nun, but needed to stay at her parents’ farm because of their poor health. A priest asked her to help work in a girls’ school and she stayed for six years before the bishop asked her to care for girls in poor schools and hospitals. With six sisters, she came to the U.S. in 1889 to work among Italian immigrants. She was the first American citizen to be canonized.  

November 13: Stanislaus Kostka, S.J., religious (1550-1568) was a Polish novice who walked from his home to Rome to enter the Jesuits on his 17th birthday. He feared reprisals by his father against the Society in Poland so we went to directly see the Superior General in person. Francis Borgia admitted him after Peter Canisius had him take a month in school before applying for entrance. Because of his early death, Kostka is revered as the patron saint of Jesuit novices.

November 14: Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Superior General (1917-1991) was the 28th Superior General of the Jesuits. He was born in the Basque region of the Iberian Peninsula. He is considered one of the great reformers of the Society because he was asked by the Pope to carry out the reforms of Vatican II. November 14th is the commemoration of his birth.

November 14: Joseph Pignatelli, S.J., religious and Superior General (1737-1811) was born in Zaragosa, Spain and entered the Jesuits during a turbulent era. He was known as the unofficial leader of the Jesuits in Sardinia when the Order was suppressed and placed in exile. He worked with European leaders to continue an underground existence and he was appointed Novice Master under Catherine the Great, who allowed the Society to receive new recruits. He secured the restoration of the Society partly in 1803 and fully in 1811 and bridged a link between the two eras of the Society. He oversaw a temperate reform of the Order that assured their survival.

November 16: Roch Gonzalez, John del Castillo, and Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J. (1576-1628) were Jesuit priests born to Paraguayan nobility who were architects of the Paraguayan reductions, societies of immigrants based on religious faith. They taught the indigenous population how to plant farms and other basic life skills that would protect them from the insidious slave trades of Spain and Portugal. By the time the Jesuits were expelled, 57 such settlements were established. Roch was a staunch opponent of the slave trade. He, John, and Alphonsus were killed when the envy of a local witch doctor lost his authority at the expense of their growing medical expertise.  

November 15: Albert the Great, bishop and doctor (1200-1280), joined the Dominicans to teach theology in Germany and Paris. Thomas Aquinas was his student. With his reluctance, he was made bishop of Ratisbon. He resigned after four years so he could teach again. His intellectual pursuits included philosophy, natural science, theology, and Arabic language and culture. He applied Aristotle's philosophy to theology.

November 16: Margaret of Scotland (1046-1093) was raised in Hungary because the Danes invaded England. She returned after the Norman Conquest in 1066 and sought refuge in Scotland. She married the king and bore him eight children. She corrected many wayward abuses within the church and clarified church practices.

November 16: Gertrude the Great (1256-1302) was placed for childrearing into a Benedictine monastery at age 5 in Saxony. She lived with two mystics named Mechthild and as she developed her intellectual and spiritual gifts, she too became a mystic. Her spiritual instructions are collected into five volumes. She wrote prayers as a first advocate of the Sacred Heart.

November 17: Elizabeth of Hungary, (1207-1231) was the daughter of Andrew II, king of Hungary. She married Ludwig IV of Thuringia and as queen supported many charities. When her husband died in a crusade in 1227, she entered the Third Order of Franciscans.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Nov 11, 1676. In St James's Palace, London, Claude la Colombiere preached on All Saints.
·      Nov 12, 1919. Fr. General Ledochowski issued an instruction concerning the use of typewriters. He said that they could be allowed in offices but not in personal rooms, nor should they be carried from one house to another.
·      Nov 13, 1865. The death of James Oliver Van de Velde, second bishop of the city of Chicago from 1848 to 1853.
·      Nov 14, 1854. In Spain, the community left Loyola for the Balearic Isles, in conformity with a government order.
·      Nov 15, 1628. The deaths of Roch Gonzalez and Fr. Alphonsus Rodriguez. They were some of the architects of the Jesuit missions in Uruguay and Paraguay.
·      Nov 16, 1989. In El Salvador, the murder of six Jesuits connected with the University of Central America together with two of their lay colleagues.
·      Nov 17, 1579. Bl Rudolph Acquaviva and two other Jesuits set out from Goa for Surat and Fattiphur, the Court of Akbar, the Great Mogul.